Thursday, February 12, 2004

Andrew Sullivan as Witness Why The M Word Matters To Me -- Feb. 16, 2004

In this eloquent Time Magazine essay, Andrew Sullivan, who also has been writing wonderfully about this at his Daily Dish blog, gives witness to the argument I made below about "civil unions" being a shabby "separate but equal" approach. He talks about what it means --emotionally, developmentally, logically, personally, and socially-- that he grew up, and continues to live, in a country where gay marriage is forbidden.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Gay Marriage in Massachusetts

Text of the amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution limiting civil marriage to a man and woman.

The amendment is dishonest. It pretends that marriage is sacred and must be reserved only for heterosexual couples for some reason. But marriage isn't necessarily sacred, especially in the eyes of the state. In the eyes of the state, a marriage occurs when a couple gets a marriage license and has the license signed by someone the state designates that power to, whether it be a Justice of the Peace or a member of the clergy. No ceremony is required. All that the state demands for granting a couple the status and benefits of marriage are a few signatures.

So when the ammendment says, "The people also wish to establish civil unions to provide to same-sex couples all the benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities under state law as are granted to spouses in a marriage. . ." and "Two persons of the same sex shall have the right to form a civil union if they meet the requirements set forth by law for marriage between a man and a woman." all the state is saying is that you can get married, but you can't call it marriage. You get the benefits and responsibilities, but a second level, compromise term -- "civil union." In order to unite civilly, you need to meet the same requirements (such as they are) man and a woman who want to marry. So to civilly unite, you have to meet the requirements of marriage, only the state won't say you're married.

So again the question is, what's so special about the word "marriage" that only heterosexuals may legally have it describe their state sanctioned unions? Well, according to the amendment, nothing much. What does it marriage really mean? Ultimately, what it means depends upon the couple who marry and where they get married and how they approach their marriage. A marriage is only sacred if a couple believes their love to be sacred. It's only religious if the couple marries in accordance with the tenets of their faith, both in word and spirit. The Supreme Court decision doesn't force any church to perform same sex marriage ceremonies. The decision doesn't undermine the rights of people of faith to marry in accordance with their moral and religious beliefs.

Further, the decision doesn't undermine the meaning of marriage or dilute its value. In fact, it strengthens marriage by extending it, by making it possible for more people to marry. The decision, at its heart, says there can be no such thing as separate but equal. The court recognizes that gay and lesbian couples exist, and that many of them are committed to one another with as much love as any heterosexual couple, and that they have been discriminated against by the state for no good reason. This discrimination didn't help heterosexual marriages. It only stigmatizes those who are gay and their families, especially the children of those couples.

Defining marriage as only the union of a man and woman is something a church might do, but not something the state should do. The amendment's own language makes it clear how wrong the designation "civil union" is. It's a second-class, second-rate designation; gays and lesbian are not second-class, second-rate citizens. To treat them that way is wrong, said the Massachusetts Supreme Court. And the Court is right.