Alex Taft
25 February 2000

The Basic Civil Right of Equality

Interracial marriage is a topic that has been out of the national limelight for quite some time because most people in the United States have grown to accept it. When the Supreme Court ruled for the right for couples to marry interracially in 1967, they called the laws preventing interracial marriage nothing more than an attempt "to maintain white supremacy" (Stoddard 413). The conclusion of the United States Supreme court was that because laws against interracial marriage served no purpose other than discrimination, they should be outlawed.

The gay rights movement of the 1990's has sparked a similar controversy among lawmakers; The question of whether or not same sex marriages should be legal in the United States. In the aforementioned case, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage is "one of the basic civil rights of man...[and is] essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness" (Stoddard 413). Despite this decision that has been standing for more than thirty years that clearly states that marriage is a basic civil right, there has been widespread controversy about same sex marriage. The opposition to this basic right has been met by opposition with weak arguments such as: Citing Judeo/Christian legend saying that homosexuality is wrong; saying that since same sex couples could not reproduce, they should not be allowed to marry; the term "same sex marriage" is a contradiction in terms because the word "marriage" implies the union of a man and a woman. Amongst others, these are the fleeting arguments against same sex marriage. These are attempts of people who are trying to maintain a heterosexual supremacy, the very same ideal of "white supremacy" that the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional in 1967. Like the laws against interracial marriage once did, the laws that exist today against same sex marriage serve no purpose other than that of discrimination. These unjust laws should be abolished.

The source of much of the discrimination against same sex marriage is rooted in religious beliefs. It is almost impossible to hear a conservative politician talking about the subject of same sex marriage without a reference to The Bible. The infamous reference that has so many jumping at the throat of homosexual marriage is in the book of Leviticus, and it reads: "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: ... Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman. It is an abhorrence" (Leviticus 18: 1, 2, 23). Because it is so clearly stated in Judeo/Christian legend that homosexuality is a sin, many Americans feel that Homosexuality should be kept out of weddings; weddings are usually religious ceremonies. However, the biggest flaw in this argument lies in the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights: "Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" (The Bill of Rights). The religious argument is a moot point because of this amendment. There is not - and there has never been - an established religion in the United States. Marriage is a union of two people recognized by the state - a civil right. It is common for a church to recognize the ceremony as well; however, if two people are married in a city hall, the marriage is not recognized by a church. If two people are married by a judge, the marriage is not recognized by a church. Same sex marriages would not ever have to be accepted by any religious organization in order to be legal. Any politician who calls upon The Bible, The Torah, or any other religious book to support the laws against same sex marriage is only looking for a way to further discriminate against homosexuals. The politicians who continue to oppose same sex marriage are serving the same purpose as the laws themselves: pure injustice.

Beyond their concerns about the religious aspect of same sex marriages, anti gay marriage supporters are concerned that homosexual marriage will somehow affect society in a negative way. Homosexual marriage has not been done before; how do we know if it will cause a societal upheaval? Since homosexuality is something that has existed forever, there is no way that 1990's America could be the first society to deal with the issue of same sex unions. In fact, if same sex marriage is someday legal, it would not the first time in America that same sex marriage was allowed. Walter L. Williams, in Andrew Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, talks about same sex marriages that existed and were tolerated by Native Americans.

An ethnographer of the Omahas wrote in the 1880s: 'Mingu-ga (mexoga) took other man as their husbands. Frank La Fleche knew one such man, who had had several men as his husbands... (They) are publicly known, and do not appear to be despised or to excite disgust.' Among the Southern Maidus, a traditionalist informant in the 1920s explained in a respectful manner about osa'pu: 'They just grew that way. . . he lives with a man... No contempt was shown them (36).
In the height of the Greco-Roman empire, sexual relationships with members of the same sex were common and accepted as well: "Homosexual concubinage was perhaps less common than heterosexual, but by no means rare. From the evidence of Augustan poetry, one could conclude that Roman men of a certain status had a male slave called a concubinus whose specific function was to meet their sexual needs before marriage" (Boswell 55). Homosexuality is a lifestyle that has existed since the dawn of mankind. The fall of the Native Americans and the Greco-Roman empires had nothing to do with the fact that homosexuality was an accepted lifestyle choice. Native Americans were driven from their land and mercilessly slain by Europeans. Throughout European history, the Greeks and the Romans each had strong and weak periods of imperialism. However, there is no evidence that their periods of weakness had to do with the approval of a homosexual lifestyle. The idea that a step towards tolerance would cause the fall of American society or even social unrest is outlandish. It is a poor attempt at fortifying the laws against same sex marriage, which anti-gay lawmakers continue to uphold without any reason except intolerance.

Although in many states law permits homosexual couples to adopt, another argument against homosexual marriage in terms of child rearing is the question of the child's development. A common claim amongst anti-gay marriage supporters is that homosexual parents could not properly raise a child because there is not a strong maternal as well as paternal figure. Were this the case, the argument would have to be brought up against heterosexual parents as well. In 1990, the estimated amount of children involved in divorces was 1,075,000 (Clarke 2). Hundreds of thousands of children are being raised by heterosexual people without both a strong maternal and paternal figure present. Even more ignorant claims may suggest that if the child has been raised by a homosexual couple, they will somehow turn the child gay. The claims that a homosexual couple could turn a child gay are ridiculous. All homosexual children have been products of heterosexual sex, and much of the time, heterosexual upbringings and surroundings. Adversely, homosexual couples have adopted and brought up heterosexual children. Scientific evidence of why people are homosexual is still inconclusive, but it is clearly not because someone raised them to be one way or another. Some feel homosexuals will be more likely to molest a child of the same sex. A study that is mentioned in Mark Strausser's Legally Wed suggests an interesting point: "current empirical data demonstrate that gay or lesbian parents are no more likely than heterosexual parents to molest children. Indeed, much evidence suggests that gays and lesbians are less likely to molest children than are heterosexual parents" (85). Heterosexual couples with adopted children are eligible for the same tax benefits as heterosexual couples with biological children. Since the evidence that homosexuals can raise children just as well as heterosexual couples is strong, there is no reason why homosexual couples with children should not be allowed the same financial and legal benefits as married heterosexual couples with children.

Friends and relatives at a wedding will often tease a bride and a groom about when the newlyweds will have children. Many of us who have been to a wedding probably have partaken in this teasing, hoping that we will soon see friends of ours have a baby. For the most part, marriage is recognized as a child-rearing union. In fact, the very fact that homosexual couples cannot biologically reproduce is an argument that is used against same sex marriages. As one conservative author wrote, "where the possibility of natural children is nil, the meaning of marriage is nil" (Sullivan 174). The argument here is that since there are not biological children produced, the marriage should not be legal. By that argument, sterile people should not be allowed to marry; elderly women who have completed menopause should not be allowed to marry; people who get married just because they love each other, and have no intention of bearing children should not be allowed to marry. Also, the assumption of the author's statement as a truth would make adoption illegal as adopting is not producing a natural child. That would leave millions of children unwanted, neglected, and possibly abandoned. Homosexual couples cannot biologically reproduce, but they can (and many are willing and ready to) adopt. As long as heterosexual people who cannot or do not want to have children are allowed to get married in the United States, a law against homosexual marriage because of their inability to procreate is unfair.

The idea of homosexual marriage is an idea that many feel strongly against simply because of what the traditional definition of marriage is. Many conservatives argue that a change in the definition of the word marriage would cause a major social change in how marriage is recognized and valued in American society, as if it were a bad thing. Of course, that is the entire point. The pro gay marriage argument wants to do exactly what the conservative argument is reflecting in a bad light: cause a major social change. The conservative argument says that a change in the definition would ruin the nation's values. The liberal argument is that a lack of change in the definition will cause further injustice and discrimination. This leads to the question: How important is the definition? Important enough, according to politicians in Vermont. Currently in Vermont, the state legislature has been working on a law that would give homosexual couples the right of marriage without the definition of the word being changed. This new law is called a Domestic Partnership. Similar to the separate but equal "Jim Crowe" laws of the civil rights movement in the 1960's, the Domestic Partnership would give homosexual couples many of the same legal rights that currently only married heterosexual couples have access to. Hull Maynard, a republican State Senator from Vermont, talked with me about his concerns about passing a law like the Domestic Partnership law. The main problem, according to Maynard, is "unintended consequences" that could result if the law is passed. It is unknown if other states would legally recognize the Domestic Partnership. It is unknown if the Domestic Partnership would be solely exclusive to homosexual couples, or if it would be open to any two people (Maynard). For example, two good friends who live together for a long period of time might want to have a Domestic Partnership for reasons like hospital visitation or insurance benefits. Of course, there are loopholes in the idea of Domestic Partnership. Theoretically, a brother and a sister could obtain a Domestic Partnership and raise a child, which would be against incest laws. If the law is not specific enough, there could be groups of three or four people that would want to start a group Domestic Partnership. The Domestic Partnership would probably only be recognized in Vermont until other states adopted similar policies, which could be years after this policy is passed. The simple solution to all of the chaos and confusion that could result from a program like Domestic Partnership is for the state to change its legal definition of marriage. Instead of the union of one man and one woman, the definition would become the union of two people; keeping the exception of direct blood relation. The conservative argument that a slight twist of wording in the definition of marriage will cause social upheaval is ridiculous. There is no way that small of a change in a definition could cause that much of a change in what a marriage is. Currently, a marriage is a lifelong union of two people who love each other, recognized by the state. It will cause no harm to society if those two people happen to be of the same sex. If passed, ideas like Domestic Partnership, like the "Jim Crowe" laws of the 1950's and 1960's, is in danger of turning out to be just like their civil rights counterparts: separate, but not equal. Domestic Partnership is simply an anti-gay stall tactic to uphold the prejudicial laws against same sex marriage, and to delay what they fear most: Equality for homosexuals in the United States.

The injustice behind these laws not only denies homosexual couples from sharing in the civil right of marriage, but also denies them the 1050 financial and legal benefits currently only available to married heterosexual couples. (Leff 4) Such benefits include rights to the spouse's property if they decease without a will, hospital visitation rights, and rights for custody of children in the case of a divorce or a death. None of these requests are unreasonable. They are basic civil liberties that are currently available to the majority of the population. The request of these rights is simply a request by homosexuals to be recognized as equals in the United States. An argument is only as strong as its weakest link, and the argument against same sex marriage is full of weak links; most of which can be nullified by simple common sense or the United States constitution. Same sex marriage should not be an issue in the United States. Marriage - as recognized by the Supreme Court in the United States - is not a religious right, nor a union under which children must be biologically procreated. It is a basic civil right. The continuation of this discriminatory heterosexual supremacy will continue until conservative voters open their minds to two of the very things that make the United States the great country that it is: diversity and equality.


Works Cited

Bill of Rights, The. Reprinted in Social Theory and Modernization, Vol. 2, 1999-2000. Ed.

Elizabeth McCrank. Needham Heights: Pearson Custom, 2000. 45-46.

Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. New York: Villiard, 1994.

Clarke, Sally C. "Children Involved in Divorce." The Monthly Vital Statistics Report 43.9 (22 Mar. 1995): 2.

Leff, Jason. "Religious leaders lobby state for same-sex marriages." The Daily Free Press. 11 Feb. 2000, sec. 1: 1+.

Maynard, Hull. Personal interview. 19 Feb. 2000.

Stoddard, Thomas B. "Gay Marriages: Make Them Legal." Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Sylvia Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999. 413-416.

Strausser, Mark. Legally Wed. Ithaca: Cornell University, 1997.

Sullivan, Andrew. Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con. New York: Vintage, 1997.

Torah, The. Translated according to the Masoretic text. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962. Leviticus 18: 1, 2, 23.