The fight for gay marriage
A Skewed Perspective
This past Tuesday a landmark event happened in Massachusetts. After almost two years of preparation, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard the case of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, in which seven same-sex couples are arguing against the unequal marriage laws of Massachusetts. If the justices rule in favor of the plaintiffs, it would pave the way to make Massachusetts the second state to legally recognize a union between same-sex partners.
The debate over same-sex unions has been raging in various state and federal courts since 1993 when a male couple first challenged the marriage laws of Hawaii. The largest victory for gay right activists came in December of 1999 when the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state's marriage laws were unequal and ordered the state legislators to correct the inequalities. What resulted was the Vermont civil union which allowed the same state benefits, civil rights and protections to same-sex couples as to married couples.
Recently, New Jersey has also been very much involved in court battles, as a case was filed seeking equal rights for gay and lesbian couples in June of 2002. Directly opposing these three states, 32 states including Hawaii have legally redefined marriage as only occurring between a man and a woman or specifically denied state protections to same-sex couples.
This idea of banning civil unions or denying same-sex partners the same rights of legal protection as heterosexual couples is completely unacceptable. As most recently illustrated on a large scale by the tragic events of Sept. 11, not allowing for civil unions causes all kinds of unequal, unfair and unreasonable problems for homosexual people. Due to their lack of legal status, homosexual couples are unable to make all sorts of legal and medical decisions that heterosexual couples can make for each other.
Why should a heterosexual person be allowed to make medical decisions for a partner to whom they have been married one year, whereas a homosexual person who has been together with his or her partner for over 20 years has no input?
The arguments against civil unions have often been hollow or religiously based. And, while I am not at all against religion helping to shape our societal values and ideals, our Constitution is based on a separation of church and state. This is something that is often forgotten when it comes to homosexual partners. Many people agree with the separation of church and state as is evidenced by the recent rulings about removing the 10 commandments from courthouses or by trying to remove "under God" from the pledge of allegiance, but then use religiously based arguments to counter the idea of legalizing gay marriage.
One of these arguments is the often stated idea that marriage is about procreation. This idea is obviously based in the religious ideas that sex is a part of consummating a marriage and that sex is about unity and procreation.
Since a homosexual couple can not procreate, they cannot be married. But marriage is not just about sex. Instead, marriage is also about the expression of love between two individuals. Two men or two women can love each other to the exact same extent that a man and a woman can, so how is it that the man and woman are following the ideal of marriage whereas the two men are not?
Looking more directly at legal marriage, this argument holds even less weight.
Legal marriage has nothing to do with sexual activity between two people, but rather the vast majority of rights provided to legally married couples are in terms of legal protection, custody, medical decisions and inheritance. And while people often express disdain for people who legally marry only for these benefits, I have never heard of anyone proposing that we ban marriages of this sort. It is only when it come to homosexual couples that the idea of controlling who receives these benefits comes up. If two men love each other and plan to spend their whole lives together, the men should be afforded the same sort of legal rights that any heterosexual couple receives.
Another often used reason why same-sex couples should not be legally sanctioned is that by doing so we will be effectively undermining the whole idea of family as a unit with children. This is a rather outdated view, however, as the specific definition of a family continues to change. It also falls apart when you consider that there are many married couples that have never had any intention of having children, but many homosexual couples that have raised children.
A third argument is that homosexual couples lack lasting commitment to each other. Not only is this idea completely absurd, it is contradictory as well. How can you use an argument that homosexual people show no real commitment to each other to argue that those same people should be denied the rights to have any sort of legally established and recognized commitment?
Providing an institution such as civil unions for homosexual couples would not only dispel this incorrect idea, it would help provide the couples with an increased commitment to each other due to its public nature.
Homosexual civil unions have been supported by three states as well as several other countries throughout the world. The fact that so many states have taken such direct efforts to contradict the efforts of some states towards progression and equality is really unfortunate. Marginalizing and denying equal rights to some citizens is rather hypocritical for a country that claims to be about progression and equal rights for all. There is no difference between what two men or two women can feel for each other or the level of commitment they can have for each other, so there should be no reason why they cannot be afforded the same sorts of equal rights and protections that are available to heterosexual couples.
Richard Friedman is a senior majoring in architecture and psychology. His column runs every other week, and he always welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, March 7, 2003