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by Adam Finley
During the past decade, with fights in Hawaii and Vermont for the right of same-sex couples to marry, other states have begun to pass measures to stop this change from ever happening.
We can't, as a nation, seem to welcome the word "gay" into our lives. Gays in the military, gays in our schools, gays on TV, gay anything. We allow gays to serve in the military as long as they don't give mention to the fact, and we tolerate television shows with gay characters as long as they don't get "too gay" for our collective taste.
When the idea of homosexuals being put into roles that have always been given to heterosexuals is brought up, the conversation is thrown into a tailspin, with voices on one side shouting for gay rights, and voices on the other insisting such actions only lead to the further deterioration of our moral fabric.
But what about basic human rights? Ask anyone, conservative or liberal, if there is such a thing as basic human rights, and they will undoubtedly answer "yes." Of course, the more thoughtful ones will hasten to add an obligatory "but" to this statement. Yes, of course every human being has certain rights, but when you bring homosexuals into the picture, you're talking about a breakdown of morality, of basic Christian values.
In the arena of gay marriage, this cry for a basic human right (the right to marry and have all the same benefits as heterosexual couples) has been met with the same backlash as any other gay issue: traditional values are static and should not, under any circumstances, be replaced by nontraditional ones.
First of all, it is implied in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. And certainly, there are passages in Scripture which could be interpreted as such. But the key word here is "interpretation," what sort of values and ideals the interpreter is bringing along when he/she delves into the text. Even more important, is that this country is not steeped in Judeo-Christian values, no matter what some may believe. George Washington himself once said "The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Our nation is "under God," admittedly, but most of our founding fathers were deists, not Christians, and felt religion should be kept out of politics entirely. So the "abomination in the face of God" argument just isn't a sound argument under our Constitution. Laws cannot be passed based on ambiguous religious values of the individual.
Nevertheless, times have quite obviously changed since George Washington made that statement. It's impossible for anyone to deny there is a breakdown of the family happening all over the United States. But can this be blamed on what seems to be a continuous trend away from so-called traditional religious values?
There is really no definite answer to this question, and it's unfair to place all anti-gay attitudes in the hands of conservative Christians, when in fact many are against homosexuality without it being a religious issue. To many people, the issue comes down to whether or not taxpayers should have to provide money to benefit individuals for whose lifestyle they do not approve.
The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund argues, however, that the cost of employers providing benefits for employees and their "domestic partners" is insignificant. And, despite unfounded fears that a high HIV rate in homosexuals would perpetuate greater cost, insurers have not raised premiums for same-sex couples seeking benefits in the work place.
Lambda further argues that, issues of cost aside, a workplace which only provides benefits for married employees is unfair, and "employees are more productive in an environment where they know that their families are secure and that their employers respect them regardless of sexual orientation and marital status."
Recently, benefits have been given to gay and lesbian couples in California under a new state law allowing them to visit their companions in medical facilities (before then, only family members were allowed visitation). The Declaration of Domestic Partnership also gives health insurance coverage to couples who qualify under the California Public Employees Retirement System. In Columbus, Ohio, Nationwide Insurance is offering a benefits package to same-sex partners (as well as roommates and relatives who live with the eligible employee), recognizing that the traditional household has in fact changed drastically in recent years. Larger companies, such as Lotus Development Corp., Microsoft Corp., IBM, Walt Disney Co., Honeywell and Xerox are also offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
While it is admirable that more companies and state law makers are recognizing the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and offering benefits for them, gay and lesbian couples are still given only a fraction of the benefits acquired by heterosexual, married couples.
It is important to remember, however, that the push for same-sex marriages is based on civil marriage, the right of each state to provide marriage licenses, not the right of specific religious groups to decide whether these unions should be recognized. Again, the way the laws are constructed leaves no room for an argument based on religious moral values.
Homosexuals and gay rights activists certainly have no qualms with being moral. What creates a problem is the subjectivity of morality, whose values serve as the catalyst. If gays are indeed a promiscuous, immoral group, than their fight to legitimize same-sex marriage makes no sense, as marriage itself implies monogamy.
Advocates for the sanctity of heterosexual marriage further argue same-sex marriage will open the floodgates for even more marriage alternatives. Why not allow polygamy? Why not allow siblings to marry?
To argue for same-sex marriage, however, shouldn't mean having to go through every possible alternative and legitimizing it. There is no sound reason the idea of same-sex marriage should trigger thoughts of incestuous marriage, or of any other kind of "immoral" union between two (or more) individuals. It was this kind of paranoia that made interracial marriage illegal until 1967.
But is it fair to group opponents of same-sex marriage into the same category as those who opposed interracial marriage just over thirty years ago? Many will argue being homosexual is a choice, unlike being a certain race. The argument has been raised that there are a lot of ex-homosexuals out there, but no ex-blacks.
Whether homosexuality is a choice or an actual part of a person's physiological make-up is up for debate, but it's difficult to fathom anyone would choose to take on a lifestyle which carries with it such harsh repercussions. Racism based on skin color or nationality is no longer tolerated by a majority of the population. Bigotry based on sexual preference, however, is.
Another argument against same-sex marriage is that marriage is synonymous with procreation. This is, as anyone who has married and chosen not to have kids will tell you, a complete falsehood. But this insistence that married couples are not fulfilling their roles unless they have children is a dangerous stance to take, especially in a nation where there are far more children than competent parents. The idea that a couple would recognize they aren't equipped to handle raising children and would choose not to should be revered, not scorned. Quite obviously, the attitude of "marriage equals procreation" opens up a torrent of other issues stretching beyond just same-sex marriage. The basis for having children is now whether the individuals have compatible body parts, as opposed to whether they have the ability to actually raise the child.
Regardless, the following statement was made by the Most Rev. Joseph L. Charron, CPPS, chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Committee on Marriage and Family; and the Most Rev. William S. Skyland, chairman of the United States Catholic Conference and Committee on Domestic Policy for the Indiana Catholic Conference:
We oppose attempts to grant the legal status of marriage to a relationship between persons of the same-sex. No same-sex union can realize the unique and full potential which the marital relationship expresses. For this reason, our opposition to "same-sex marriage" is not an instance of unjust discrimination or animosity toward homosexual persons. In fact, the Catholic Church teaches emphatically that individuals and society must respect the basic human dignity of all persons, including those with a homosexual orientation. Homosexual persons have a right to and deserve respect, compassion, understanding, and defense against bigotry, attacks and abuse.
This variation of the "hate the sin/love the sinner" passage seems particularly well intended, especially emerging from the Catholic arena, which is not often so kind in its views of alternative lifestyles.
But kindness, especially in its most patronizing forms, does not grant homosexuals the full benefits and rights equated to other human beings. Gay rights activists have argued offering a handful of rights to gays and their partners is simply not enough. Lois Farnham and Holly Puterbaugh, a Vermont couple who have been together for over 25 years, understood this, as evidenced in a 1997 column by Deb Price in the Detroit News:
"Lois and Holly, who hope to retire in nine years, were shocked to realize how vulnerable they are without a marriage license, regardless of how many other legal documents they sign. If one of them is hospitalized, there's 'no 100-percent guarantee' the other will be treated as next of kin, Holly says with horror and indignation."
Lois and Holly were one of three plaintiff couples who sued the Vermont state health department for denying them a marriage license in 1997. The case was dismissed quickly by a trial court, which argued Vermont used marriage as a promotion of procreation, despite the aforementioned fact that many couples cannot and choose not to procreate. In 1998, arguments given before the Vermont Supreme Court cast the spotlight on this distortion, and in 1999, the Court ruled that same-sex couples should have the same rights as married couples.
However, until the freedom to actually marry is recognized by the Vermont legislature, these rights will not be constitutionally guaranteed. The door has been opened, but it can, in all likelihood, be slammed shut just as quickly.
In the case of Baher vs. Lewin, Ninia Baehr, Genora Dancel, Tammy Rodrigues, Antoinette Pregil, Pat Lagon, and Joseph Melillo sued John Lewin, director of the state Department of Health, State of Hawaii for denying them marriage applications on the grounds that the couples were of the same-sex. After being dismissed by circuit court, the plaintiffs appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which held the decision to be sex discrimination and sent the case back to the circuit court, demanding proof of a "compelling state interest" for the discrimination of same-sex couples.
Congress passed the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which recognizes only specific variations of marriage and denies gay and lesbian couples recognition, benefits and protection for all federal purposes, states such as Hawaii are still have the right to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Due to pressure from right-wing groups in 1998, however, an amendment was added to the Hawaii Constitution which gave the legislature the right to restrict marriage. The Court still held that denial of the freedom to marry was sex discrimination, but the plaintiffs' case eventually became dead in the water due to the passageof the new amendment.
Hawaii was on the threshold of being the first state to recognize same-sex marriages, and, under the U.S. Constitution's requirement that states grant "full faith and credit" to the acts of other states, other states would most likely have had to recognize same-sex marriages as well.
Hawaii's fight and subsequent failure to be the first state to allow same-sex marriage is exactly what makes many same-sex advocates pessimistic about the recent ruling in Vermont. Granting same-sex couples the same benefits as married couples (which includes family health coverage, medical and bereavement leave, child custody, tax benefits and pension plans) is only a small victory and can, as long as there is a strong anti-gay sentiment across the nation, be easily squelched. According to Focus on the Family, a Christian group that opposes same-sex marriage, a bill has already been presented to the Vermont Legislature which would ban same-sex marriages.
States such as Vermont and Hawaii are two against many when it comes to allowing same-sex marriages. Legislatures in 31 other states continue to ban same-sex marriage and partner benefits. The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, a group in Nevada dedicated to the "preservation of traditional marriage" is currently collecting signatures to amend an already existing state law which defines marriage as a union between individuals of the opposite sex. The reasoning behind Nevada's, and the other states' decision is fear that the "full faith and credit clause" of the US Constitution would force them to recognize gay marriage if just one state legalizes it.
The recent ruling in Vermont, while still subject to defeat, serves as even stronger evidence that homosexuality may, not without a savage struggle, actually become recognized as a legitimate lifestyle. Next year, lawmakers in the Ohio House and Senate will introduce bills which will ban same-sex marriage. A similar bill was presented and defeated in 1997, but with Vermont's progressive decision, proponents feel the time is right to re-introduce the bill in order, according to a Jan. 4 Associated Press article, "to protect families from nontraditional values others may bring into the state."
The victory for same-sex marriage advocates in Vermont may seem like an empty one, but it is clear, just by seeing how other states have scrambled to build walls against these "nontraditional values," that homosexuality, and the rights of gays to marry and acquire benefits, has garnered a cavalcade of support which can no longer be ignored.
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