All Couples Created Equal

With the recent Supreme Court hearings for both California’s Proposition Eight and the Defense Of Marriage Act, a firestorm of controversy has once again been sparked regarding gay marriage. In this article, I would like to highlight and challenge what I consider to be the most constant of these arguments against same-sex couple’s right to marry. The first erroneous claim is rooted in the October 15, 1971 case, Baker v. Nelson, when the Supreme Court of Minnesota found that “The institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis,” according to the Marriage Law Foundation. Any person attempting to define modern marriage by biblical standards has already failed to consider that marriage ceased to be an exclusively religious institution as soon as the federal government began extending tax benefits to legally married heterosexual couples. While a church retains the religious right to define marriage in the eyes of its deity, separation of Church and State prevents any religious establishments from determining the legal status of American citizens. The LGBT community’s demands for the same tax benefits and hospital visitation rights as heterosexual couples are exclusively government-oriented, and in no way infringe upon the spiritual well-being or moral authority of any known religious establishment. As the federal government does not at this moment recognize gay or lesbian marriages, even if the state the married couple live in does, these couples are denied many of federal benefits that come with being married (as of 2004, there were 1,138 according to the General Accounting Office’s Defense of Marriage Act: An Update to Prior Report). Same-sex couples are not eligible to receive surviving spouse and surviving parent benefits from Social Security, giving them less funding to support their families with. Often, because the definition of a legal child often does not consider both members in a gay or lesbian couple to be parents, those couples are not eligible to receive earned income tax credit, head of household status deductions or child tax credits. Estimates approximate there are at least one million children being raised by same-sex couples in the U.S. today according to the Human Rights Campaign’s website—that’s over one million children whose families do not receive the same federal aid that most Americans benefit from. Same-sex couples fail to receive several other benefits because they are denied the right to marry. Thus, the campaign for marriage equality is not a religious one, but an attempt to assure that all American citizens benefit from equal protection under the law. In addition, for anyone to claim that the sole purpose of marriage in our society is procreation would be ludicrous. If inability to procreate is a justification for denying homosexual couples their government-mandated marriage benefits, then all sterile, infertile, disabled or elderly couples must at some point have their marriage stripped of its validity as well. Another argument against same-sex equality is the idea that allowing gay couples to marry will somehow weaken the institution of marriage itself and might result in higher divorce rates across the nation. However, since becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts’ divorce rate declined 21 percent between 2003 and 2008—resulting in the lowest divorce rate in the country, according to Nate silver, a political blogger for “The New York Times.” On a related note, proponents of the Defense Of Marriage Act have made frequent claims that allowing same-sex couples to marry will lead to a “slippery slope,” eventually resulting in the legalization of pedophilia and bestiality. The nonexistent parallels drawn between homosexuality and sexual misconduct in this argument, however, can be easily dismantled. Unlike a child, animal or an inanimate object, a homosexual individual over the age of 18 is a legal adult and fully capable of making his or her own sexual and marital decisions. This fundamental idea of consent is what separates homosexuality from bestiality or pedophilia. The final argument against the legalization of gay marriage always seems to boil down to the idea that it is not even a civil rights issue in the first place. The 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, however, confirmed that marriage is “one of the basic civil rights of man.” Although they may first appear as such, the issues presented by both DOMA and Proposition Eight are not truly about whether or not gay people should be allowed to marry. Rather, they are about whether or not homosexual American citizens should be given the same protections and benefits as heterosexuals in the eyes of the law. In this country, where government benefits are fundamentally tied to matrimony, marriage is merely included as a part of this full legal standing. There is no such thing as “gay rights.” There are only human rights. All that the LGBT community is asking for are the basic liberties that come along with a legal marriage. The U.S. prides itself upon being the “land of the free,” and it is about time we lived up to that. Same-sex couples are asking for no more or less than they deserve—that is, the exact same rights and privileges that all human beings are guaranteed in our constitution. A homosexual individual’s right to full equality is incontestable. Grace Tully is a two-year Lower from Reading, MA.