The Not-So-Civil Marriage Debate
Paula Martinac | December 17, 2003
The recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on same-sex
marriage was a historic step toward our full equality under the law. Given its
significance, we should all be thrilled and energized. But instead, the decision
has left some of us uneasy about the ugly antigay backlash already taking
Right-wingers are claiming to be enraged by the decision, but, in fact,
they're buoyed by the prospect of securing a second term for Bush over the wedge
issue of marriage. Antigay legislators and lobbyists seeking to exorcise the
same-sex marriage demon through a federal amendment have thrown their efforts
Making these political maneuverings worse is the barrage of media coverage
dissecting same-sex relationships and why they do or do not deserve legal
recognition. Although a number of reports and editorials have been supportive of the
Massachusetts ruling, many have been vicious. On her radio program, Sandy
Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, urged listeners to stop gay
marriage, or it will lead to "the American public disintegrating and ... our
enemies overtaking us because we have no moral will." (Read: Gay people are to blame
for Sept. 11.)
It's easy to dismiss Rios and others like her as loose cannons. But what
about the kinder, gentler conservatives of whom gay Republicans are so fond?
National Public Radio, usually a left-leaning source of commentary, recently aired
hurtful remarks by The National Review's Stanley Kurtz, who made the
bizarre claim that gay marriage would ultimately work to the detriment of all
American children. According to Kurtz, when straights can't claim marriage as
their own anymore, they'll simply stop marrying, and their children will no longer
enjoy the stability that marital unions bring. (Read: Gay people will be to
blame for deadbeat straight parents.)
What makes "theories" like this more insidious than the rants of blatant
homophobes like Rios is that they mask bigotry in terms of support - the old "some
of my best friends are gay" humbug. Kurtz says he wants his gay friends and
colleagues to have rights - just not this one. Or as the Alliance for
Marriage delicately frames it, "Gays and lesbians have the right to live as they
choose" - as long as it's not in same-sex marriages.
I'm sick to death of these antigay invectives, and the ink is hardly dry on
the Massachusetts ruling. But then, right-wingers would like nothing better
than for gay people and their allies to become so tired and drained - emotionally
and financially - by struggling for marriage rights that we just give up the
Even if we're tired, though, we can't afford the luxury of quitting. Indeed,
we have to try harder than ever to foil the Republican plans to dishonor our
relationships for the party's political gain. The following is a tactic I've
advocated before, but it bears repeating: Each of us needs to press our straight
families and friends to take this issue personally. Leaders of the black
civil rights movement knew that they would accomplish their goals much more
quickly if white people took up the cause as their own.
We need, then, to ask the straight people in our lives to speak up for us
publicly - through letters to news media and legislators, speeches to church
groups, e-mails to friends, conversations with co-workers. We want them to call
attention to the fact that the right-wing drive against civil marriage rights,
although cloaked in the guise of religion, is at its core politically driven
and deeply hateful - and that it hurts people they care about.
Consider this example and share it with others: A year ago, the city of
Cleveland Heights began granting health benefits to domestic partners of city
employees. This wasn't about marriage rights for all gay Ohioans, but about health
benefits for a very small number of civil servants. Immediately, antigay
groups launched an all-out campaign to repeal those health benefits. Obviously,
among the many things that God decreed in the Bible was that health-insurance
benefits should be for heterosexual families only.
Consider this, too: In an effort to negate the need for same-sex marriage,
the Family Research Council spreads the lie that the legal and financial
benefits of marriage "are already afforded [gay couples] via a will, power of
attorney, or contract." Not only is this paperwork extremely expensive (ours ran
$1,000 six years ago, and my partner and I didn't even need documents for parental
rights), but it could never begin to cover the many protections and benefits
that civil marriage brings.
Deep down, the right's effort to exploit the marriage issue isn't about
religion; it's a political attempt to deceive and confuse the public to win an
election at the expense of a particular group of citizens. Understanding that
should make the issue very, very personal - not just for gay people, but for all
Americans who have lesbians and gay men in their lives.
Paula Martinac is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of seven books and editor in chief of Q Syndicate.
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