Why the Fuss?
(About Same Sex Marriage)
(written Nov. 2003)
HJ 56: Marriage Amendment
(written July 2003)
The So-Called Defense of Marriage Amendment
(written July 2001)
This opinion piece was written in November of 2003, the week that the Massachusetts Supreme Court found the ban against same-sex marriage unconstitutional. I also have written a summary of that ruling, if you'd like to read it.
Why are so many focused on same-sex marriage?
I mean, unless people decide to get their knickers in a twist about it, it's really a complete non-issue for 90% of the population, because it's not about them, and won't affect them at all. (Counting those gay people who choose to marry and their families as 10% is probably a bit generous, but I'm erring on the side of over counting.) In fact, the Massachusetts ruling will have absolutely no effect on 99.78% of the people in this country, since it's only going to change things for perhaps 10% of the population of Massachusetts!
Even if same-sex marriage were legalized nationwide, it's not as if anyone were going to do anything they aren't already doing. We'll just have legal safeguards and protections.
Heterosexuals won't be any more likely to find themselves living next door to a homosexual couple. We're already coupled, and already living someplace.
People who want to sneer and think badly of us will still be able to. The ones who want to think we are sinning still can. The ones who want to whisper, speculate, and point fingers will still have free reign to do that.
We've been through this before. When the anti-miscegenation laws in California were overturned in 1948 (Perez vs Sharp,) it caused an uproar and was hailed as The End of Society, although the US Supreme Court didn't declare all such laws forbidding marriage between members of different races unconstitutional until 1967, almost 20 years later (Loving vs Virginia.) The laws in the 15 states that still had them weren't completely repealed until Alabama finally deleted the last one in a special election in November of 2000. They were void, but still on the books.
There have been legally married mixed-race couples everywhere in this country for 36 years now. But still, such couples are looked at askance by some. They have more problems getting seated in some restaurants, their children face prejudice, and they are sometimes regarded as objects of curiosity. Sadly, judicial acceptance isn't instantly followed by societal acceptance.
It's going to be the same here, I'm sure. The fact that Massachusetts has decided in the case of Goodridge, et al. v. The Dept of Public Health, et al. that denying civil marriage licenses to people simply because they want to marry someone of the same gender is in violation of the Massachusetts Constitution isn't going to make us acceptable.
I realize that conservative Christians think that people who are "active homosexuals" (doesn't that sound like an exercise program for glbt people?) are going to hell. But then, from their point of view, so is everyone who doesn't participate in their religion. Since you can't be part of their religion and queer, it's not like people are going anyplace they weren't going anyway; even if they do have a chance to marry their love, and get legal protection for their families.
No one is trying to tell those churches that they will have to perform such ceremonies. After all, right now Catholic churches aren't forced to perform weddings involving people who have been divorced, Muslim churches aren't forced to perform weddings between believers and infidels, Pagan groves aren't forced to perform weddings from the Book of Common Prayer, even though all those marriages are legal. If it's against your religion, don't do it! No one can make you.
No one is even going to say that people will have to stop following their own religious laws. After all, right now Muslim women can walk around in their burkahs, Jewish men are free to wear their prayer shawls, kippahs, and side curls. Rastafarians can wear their dreadlocks. No civil laws require them to abandon these outward signs of their religion, far less to abandon the religious laws that people cannot see. Jehovah's Witnesses aren't forced to exchange birthday presents, Jews aren't required to eat ham and swiss cheese sandwiches, Southern Baptists aren't required to become social drinkers.
All of these things are deeply held beliefs of the group that practices them; but considered irrelevant religious laws to people who don't. Most Americans would be incensed if they were required to follow the religious laws of a religion not their own, and rightly so. That is what Freedom of Religion is about.
And yet, for some reason, roughly half the people in this country seem to think that forcing others to follow what is, essentially, their own religious law concerning marriage is perfectly acceptable.
Why is that?
If you think it's wrong to marry someone of the same sex, don't do it. Refuse to bless your children's marriage, if you think it's wrong. Refuse to attend such a ceremony if you find it offensive. But getting all upset because people who don't share your beliefs can legally enter marriages you disapprove of makes about as much sense as getting angry because it's legal for your Protestant neighbor not to keep Kosher.
If you read the whole decision you'll see that, far from seeking to eliminate marriage (as some have accused) Justice Marshall begins by saying "Marriage is a vital social institution."
All through the majority decision, she reiterates that marriage is the basic unit of social stability. Which, of course, is why everyone who wishes to assume the hundreds of rights and heavy responsibilities associated with marriage should be allowed to, as long as they meet the basic criteria of minimum age, consaginuity, and so on.
As stated in the decision, "Alarms about the imminent erosion of the "natural" order of marriage were sounded over the demise of antimiscegenation laws, the expansion of the rights of married women, and the introduction of "no-fault" divorce. Marriage has survived all of these transformations, and we have no doubt that marriage will continue to be a vibrant and revered institution."
No doubt, politicians will try to make this the Big Issue of the coming campaign. But let's defeat them all, for a change. Let's sensibly realize that it's not important to the vast majority of Americans, and instead focus on the issues which impact all of us; the economy, the environment, the erosion of freedoms, health care, social security, war, the deep division in this country, bureaucratic lies, and so on.
This election cycle, let's ignore all attempts, by any side, to distract us; and hold them all accountable for their past records, instead.