Love Conquers All

I remember the shared elation and sense of triumph those sitting in CAMD felt the afternoon Massachusetts declared it would grant same-sex partners the right of marriage. The memory is now more acute, given the recent developments concerning the gay rights issue. While some applaud President George Bush’s supposed compromise in endorsing gays’ and lesbians’ rights to civil unions, while banning their rights to marriage, it is clear to others that his decision is a disturbing furtherance of legalized discrimination against homosexuals. Bush’s concerns that marriage, the most “enduring human institution,” will irrevocably be changed in essence by an expansion in its definition is simply absurd. His expressed hesitance to “change the most fundamental institution of civilizations” and desire to “prevent [marriage’s] meaning from being changed forever” are bolstered by a both a lack of logic and understanding, as well as a tenuous understanding of history. American marriage, in its conception, was a legal and religious contract between white men and women, and was used as a means to enforce female subordination. Clearly, given our social progress and changes in demography, marriage has been altered and re-defined. Under this light, marriage seems to be an institution whose very dependence is contingent upon changes appropriate to its surrounding social dynamics, rather than being a fixed institution, impervious to the social climate in which it exists. In our struggle to eliminate homophobia, it is essential that we re-evaluate our definition of marriage to include same-sex partnership; doing so will in no way refute the core definition of marriage as being a union between loving and committed partners. The support of civil unions in place of civil marriage, while perhaps spawned from the best intentions, is misguided. It is based on the same logic that defended racial segregation. Creating a legal distinction between homosexual couples from heterosexual couples, similar to that according to race, provides inherent inequities. In addition to stigmatizing and isolating homosexual relationships, the banning of homosexual marriage also exposes those in same-sex relationships to a sweep of government-sanctioned prejudice. Civil unions are not the same as civil marriages. In a same-sex legal case in Hawaii, the state identified as many as one thousand and forty-nine protections, benefits, and responsibilities provided by civil marriages, including those related to hospital visitations, tax benefits, immigration rights, parenting rights, and the right to divorce. Civil unions are not required to be recognized by every state, and thus the annulment of such contracts must be made after same-sex partners establish residency in a state that respects civil unions. Civil unions do not extend the same federal benefits that civil marriage grants. Marriage is not simply a legal contract. It is a collusion of law, culture, family, religion, and love. To say that civil unions are parallel to civil marriages because they grant the same state benefits is to undermine all of the other elements of which life-long partnership is composed. Contrary to popular belief, even if homosexuals are granted the right to marriage, religious institutions are not mandated to recognize such marriages. Marriages simply require couples to sign a marriage license under supervision. Just as some churches reserve the right to deny marriage rituals to a person who has already been divorced, a church has a right to deny marriage rituals to homosexual couples. The right to adhere to religious beliefs, then, is not intruded upon simply by allowing homosexual marriage federally. George Bush is not defending the “sanctity of marriage;” what makes marriage sacred is the love it celebrates and the commitment it solicits, not sexual orientation. Instead, he is defending a sedulous tradition of homophobia. George Bush is not providing gay partners the same rights simply by allowing civil unions. Civil unions and civil marriages are different in practice and policy. George Bush is not protecting religious rights; they were never threatened. It is clear, then, that his position on gay marriages cannot even be given the dignity of good intentions. All of his lofty declarations about preserving marriage are thinly-disguised rhetoric about preserving the fear, hatred, and misinformation that fuels discrimination directed toward those of a different sexual-orientation. The denial of the right to marriage to same-sex partners is about more than dimly-lit churches, wedding cakes, and flowers. It is about more than federal rights and marriage licenses. Instead, it is about taking away the right to declare and commemorate love, a tiny and universal miracle that should never be obscured or denounced, even in all of its varied shapes and forms.