Gay marriage and gay rights in general reflect one of the last big civil rights issues of our time. Even though it still occurs, discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and disability has been addressed within the law and within the courts. Atheists and homosexuals are probably the only two significant minorities for which many people think “hate” is okay. As many Christian fundamentalists have asked when commenting on implementing legal protections of LGBT individuals, why should homosexuals be granted special rights? To think that to be free of discrimination is a special right speaks volumes about the hate behind rhetorical questions such as this.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not gay, bisexual or transgender. I am a straight white married male with a large family, living in the Midwest. I am as far removed from gay rights and gay marriage as I could possibly be. Essentially, gay marriage has zero impact on me or anyone I care about, which is why I think gay marriage should be granted the same rights and privileges as heterosexual marriage. If you are not gay, same-sex marriage does not affect you.
Rather than continuing to use the term “gay marriage,” I believe the best way to refer to this issue is marriage equality, which recasts this issue as one of fairness. Under the tax laws, spouses are granted special consideration especially with respect to estate and capital gains taxes. Moreover, straight couples are granted privileges under other laws such as HIPAA, FERPA, and any other law having to do with parenting and privacy, which are denied to committed same sex couples. In effect, deniers of marriage equality are telling all homosexual couples that no matter how committed, how loyal, and how loving they may be within their primary relationships, they will never be extended the rights and privileges of heterosexual couples.
Popular support across the nation has just recently tipped in favor of marriage equality. Gallup polling has shown a consistent trend over the last few years topping 50% nationally in favor of marriage equality.
This trend is even more pronounced among the young, meaning it is not a question of if marriage equality will be the law of the land but when it becomes the law coast to coast. This trend is a byproduct of the popularization of the impact of discrimination against homosexual couples. Stories of outrageous tax burdens, unfair treatment in hospitals, and vindictive actions taken by immediate family members toward the living partners of deceased homosexuals have made national news. In many respects, the U.S. is a nation concerned with fairness, opportunity and freedom. The discriminatory practices written into many state and federal laws against same sex couples violate these three concerns.
The opponents of marriage equality frequently argue that gay marriage violates the primary purpose of marriage, which is to provide a stable family structure of a mother and a father. Technology and changes in adoption laws have removed this objection, since many same-sex couples are also parents, with both partners adopting children regardless of who gave birth.
The next most common argument is the one of “tradition.” This is based on the spurious claim that marriage came from the cultural traditions of the United States, and these traditions are based on one man and one woman as a married couple. Ignoring the fact that there are religions in this country which support polygamy, the central argument is that marriage equality degrades the value of traditional marriage. Within the law today, there is no religious or “traditional” component of legal heterosexual marriage. In fact, marriage is a legal arrangement which can be established with a few signatures and a 10minute ceremony in most states.
Finally, the third most common argument against gay marriage is that it enshrines and encourages immoral behavior. According to supporters of this argument, homosexuality by and of itself is evil and by allowing for marriage equality, we are condoning evil. Without question, it is getting past the religious objection to homosexuality which is the most difficult to argue. However, the authors of our First Amendment recognized that purely religious values imposed on anyone are the antithesis of freedom. By allowing people to write into the law that homosexuality is somehow morally bad, we are codifying a purely religious perspective into the laws. The current arguments against homosexuality and marriage equality simply don’t hold up to reasoned scrutiny.
What about the rights of religious groups who object to marriage equality? These institutions are already protected. Synagogues are not required to marry Baptists any more than the Catholic Church is required to marry two atheists. Simply put, no institution or group will be required to perform marriage ceremonies for anyone who does not conform to that institution’s set of rules or conditions.
This is also why civil marriage ceremonies are part of the law. Why should two atheists be required to go through the motions of a religious ceremony? Marriage equality does not change how marriage works today for any and all religious groups across the country.
The libertarian argument would be that there should be no protections for any relationship, and government should not be involved in marriage of any sort other than as an arbiter of contract disputes. Why should single people suffer disadvantages for not being married? As reasonable as this may appear, it is not a realistic argument. The country may evolve to this point where the government no longer interferes/protects/condones any personal relationships, but it is unlikely to occur in the lifetime of anyone living today. For as long as we as a country legally recognize the marriage bond between two individuals, the laws around marriage must be as fair and equitable as we can make them. Consequently, the only supportable position is to codify marriage equality and to eliminate yet another form of institutionalized discrimination.
States are already starting to move in the right direction. As we recently saw with Maine, who reversed a previous ballot proposal banning marriage equality, states are just now recognizing marriage equality as an important civil right.
The Supreme Court will be taking up DOMA and marriage quality in its next session. This will be a landmark issue for this court. They may not rule in favor of marriage equality, but like previous courts who ruled against civil rights issues, it is only a matter of time before SCOTUS sees that marriage equality is a civil protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Equal protection applies to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.