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Comments on The Illinois gay marriage bill

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Let Us Wed

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Let us wed. It rests on equality, liberty, and even society.

Let us wed...That idea remains shocking to many people. So far, only five countries-Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Spain-have given full legal status to same-sex unions. The sight of homosexual men and women having wedding days just like those enjoyed for centuries by heterosexuals is unsettling, just as, for some people, is the sight of us holding hands or kissing.

The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else?

Another argument is rooted in semantics: marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and so cannot be extended to same-sex couples. They may live together and love one another, but cannot, by this argument, be "married". But that is to dodge the real question - why not? - and to obscure the real nature of marriage, which is a binding commitment, at once legal, social and personal, between two people to take on special obligations to one another. If homosexuals want to make such marital commitments to one another, and to society, then why should we be prevented from doing so while other adults, equivalent in all other ways, are allowed to do so?

Until June 12, 1967, in some American states it was illegal for African-American adults to marry white ones.

In, Loving v. Virginia. U.S. Supreme Court ruled (9 to 0) that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional within the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice Warren said: "There can be no question that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race. . . .Marriage is one of 'the basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." Civil unions for interracial marriages were never part of the equation.

I raise the query because there's a lot of conversation in the aftermath of State Representative Gregg Harris' decision to introduce a bill to allow same sex couples all the legal rights of marriage in the land of Lincoln.

At heart are the old questions: Do you wait for people to be more comfortable to make change? Or do people only become more comfortable in the wake of change? Do you sacrifice incremental benefits by going for the whole enchilada? Or do small changes merely sustain the status quo?

Evan Wolfson, the author of "Why Marriage Matters," says that "the classic American pattern of civil rights advances is a patchwork of advances, resistance, regression, all at the same time." Today the map of America looks decidedly like a patchwork quilt.

The gay rights movement is not solely about marriage, and there are real gains in pursuing health benefits and Social Security. Activists, such as Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois, say gays need to tell the everyday stories of couples barred from hospital rooms and from health coverage.

But if we waited for comfort levels to rise, would we still have laws against interracial marriage? Would we be issuing civil unions for segregated marriages?

Six years ago, Vermont took the radical step of legalizing civil unions. Now civil unions are the moderate position. Does anyone think this shift in thinking would have happened without marriage on the agenda?

When same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, a huge uproar was predicted. But the sky never fell, and the uproar became a low hum. In Massachusetts, same sex couples now look like any other SUV couple with two parents, a kid, and a golden retriever on a quiet suburban street. We've even begun the next, less cheerful, chapter in equality: same-sex divorce.


Civil unions are not enough!

As of today, civil unions or domestic partnerships that offer varying amounts of the benefits of marriage are available in: Andorra, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In the US, it is available in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont.

The case against same sex marriage, according to the religious right, is that this would damage an important social institution. Yet, the reverse is surely true. Gays want to marry precisely because we see marriage as important: we want the symbolism that marriage brings, the extra sense of obligation and commitment, as well as the social recognition. Allowing gays to marry would, if anything, add to social stability, for it would increase the number of couples that take on real, rather than simply passing, commitments. The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals' doing, not gays', for it is their infidelity, divorce rates and single-parent families that have wrought social damage.

But marriage is about children, say some: to which the answer is, often, but not always, (we allow infertile couples to marry) and permitting gay marriage would not alter that. Or it is a religious act, say others: to which the answer is, yes, you may believe that, but if so, it is no business of the state to impose a religious status. Besides, some religious denominations are performing marriages already, without getting the rights that come with the institution. Indeed, in America the constitution expressly bans the involvement of the state in religious matters, so it would be especially outrageous if the constitution were now to be used for religious ends-as some proponents of the constitutional amendment in America, banning gay marriage would pretend to do.

The importance of marriage for society's general health and stability also explains why the commonly mooted alternative to gay marriage-a so-called civil union-is not enough. Yet, those civil unions would be both wrong in principle and damaging for society. Marriage, as it is commonly viewed in society, is more than just a legal contract. Moreover, to establish something short of real marriage for some adults would tend to undermine the notion for all.

"Marriage is one of 'the basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law" Chief Justice Warren 1967

 

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