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 V.13 No.24 | June 10 - 16, 2004 

Commentary

They're Here, They're Queer, They're Married, Get Used to It

Gay couples in Massachusetts are getting legally married in droves but that story is nowhere near as hot as the dubiously legal San Francisco weddings of February. Someday soon, probably very soon, the topic of gay marriage will be as tired and boring as Janet Jackson's right boob. The reason is this: Gay marriage is exactly the same as regular old marriage except they're gay. Big whup. Let the Bible thumpers froth at the mouth over how gay marriage will bring about the imminent demise of the world as we know it. Don't forget, these are the same people who predicted the end of marriage if women were allowed to vote, own property or earn their own money. Marriage between same-sex couples is simply the newest step in the evolution of a cultural institution that has been in flux since it began.

The model of "traditional marriage" so revered by social conservatives is an illusion at best and an outright lie at worst. The marriage of the Founder's time isn't an endangered species, it's extinct. Modern marriages, even that of our pious president and his missus, have little in common with the ties that bound our founding mothers to the founding fathers. So what exactly is this "traditional marriage" that's got the churchies' proverbial knickers in a twist?

Even into the '80s, being married meant that in some states a man could not be prosecuted for beating or raping his own wife—such was our "traditional" understanding of a woman as her husband's property. Many states forbade interracial marriage until the '70s. Polygamy remained legal until the Civil War. When you really think about it, those opposed to gay marriage aren't interested in preserving traditional marriage. That's just rhetoric they employ to disguise their homophobia.

What is marriage all about, really? First and foremost, it is an emotional relationship based on love and commitment. That's why many states still recognize common law marriage. If you've been living together like a married couple, telling people you're married and calling each other husband and wife, then 15 states and the District of Columbia consider you married (as long as you're straight). As far as marriage goes in these states, it's the thought that counts.

The event of marriage takes place when a couple ask their friends and family to formally recognize their commitment; in effect, they ask the public to approve of their love for and commitment to each other. Afterwards, the state and federal governments confer upon the couple 1,049 rights, privileges and responsibilities.

While civil union laws, such as Vermont's, have the potential to confer most of those same rights and privileges—including the right to make end-of-life decisions for each other and the privilege of not testifying against each other in court—the federal government won't recognize them. More importantly, civil unions lack the public endorsement of marriage. Most of the people now fighting for marriage equality are primarily interested in these 1,049 rights and privileges. They would be mostly satisfied by civil unions if available in every state and federally recognized. By denying gay couples access to marriage and giving them civil unions as a consolation prize, we create a parallel institution that is by nature separate and unequal. As a society we deny them the public approval that a marriage confers and instantly create a second, inferior class of citizens.

Why would we want to do this? Sex. The traditional marriage camp is unwilling to allow equal rights for gay couples because they're gay, right? Don't kid yourself, that's flat-out discrimination. We might as well start installing drinking fountains labeled "straights only" and "gays only."

In case you've forgotten, we don't legislate the private sex lives of our citizens. Certain religions oppose it and some people believe it's wrong but it's not illegal. Last year, in Lawrence vs. Texas, the United States Supreme Court struck down all remaining laws against gay sex. Some of these laws also made it a crime for straight married couples to engage in oral sex or non- missionary position sex. They were archaic and overdue for repeal. Ironically, Justice Antonin Scalia, in his scathing dissent to the majority decision, made a startlingly eloquent argument for gay marriage. He wrote, "Today's opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned." He went on to say, "If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is ’no legitimate state interest,' what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples? ..."

Good question. If the government has no legitimate interest in the love lives of its citizens, if we don't believe in making laws based on religious approval of our sex lives, then how can we deny the right of marriage to any pair of men or women? Every day millions of married, straight Americans engage in sex far more debased and "sinful" than the average gay couple. The Religious Right surely disapproves but we would never allow them to put forth a constitutional amendment denying these perverts their Social Security benefits or rights of inheritance. No way! Religious extremists want to deny marriage to millions of Americans because they disapprove of something the Supreme Court says is no business of the state.

In Turner v. Safley, the Court ruled that marriage is such a fundamental right that it cannot be denied to prison inmates, including convicted child molesters, rapists, serial killers and terrorists. Apparently, Justice Scalia and other religious zealots believe that Dick Cheney's gay daughter, Mary, is so morally reprehensible, so dangerously evil, that we must, at all costs, show our disapproval by preventing her from receiving the benefits of marriage. Charles Manson, on the other hand, is free to marry at will. It is those who oppose gay marriage who are dangerous to our society. It is they who threaten the values of liberty, equality and justice on which our country was founded.

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