The passage of Proposition 8, that discriminatory, civil rights revoking California amendment banning marriage between same sex couples, makes me so mad it is impossible articulate my thoughts in any constructive manner. As a (non-practicing) political scientist it saddens me how frequently history must repeat itself before we learn that our constitutions, federal or state, are not documents made for banning legal rights but for granting them. The now defunct 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, the one that took away American’s rights to buy, consume, or transport alcohol, lasted only thirteen years and is now blamed for an increase in drinking and the rise of organized crime. See what happens when we take away people’s rights? The Bill of Rights, and everything it stands for, is desecrated each time we add something that limits anyone’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness (including that pesky 16th amendment legalizing the federal income tax). Rather then go on and on with all the angry thoughts going through my head, I am going to reprint a piece (with some edits) I did as a guest contributor to Simpleprop.com during the 2004 election season. It is just as relevant now as it was 4 years ago.
11/4/2004- Marriage, specifically, the definition of marriage, was a major focus of conservatives during our recent presidential elections and the subject of referendums on 11 state ballots. I initially thought our government had gotten involved with the issue because of the monetary implications of allowing gay couples to wed. Recognizing same-sex unions means these couples would receive the same legal rights to health insurance, social security benefits, and welfare benefits equating to greater costs incurred by corporations and our government. To get more people on the support bandwagon, I believed the government was cleverly disguising this as a moral issue rather than an economic to garner more support from the religious right.
Much to my surprise, President Bush announced that although he disagrees with same-sex marriage, he supports civil unions:
"I view the definition of marriage difference from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as between, a union between a man and a woman," Bush said. "Now, having said that, states ought to be able to have the right to pass ... laws that enable people to you know, be able to have rights, like others." - W
With this apparent flip-flop of support for legally recognizing same-sex unions, it is a wonder why so much time and energy is being devoted to adding amendments to state laws and our US constitution banning same-sex marriages. This is not a political issue, it is a linguistic issue. If Bush himself believes that same-sex couples deserve the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, then this push is simply around a definition of a word. I don’t believe it is in the best interest of our society to have our government start taking on the responsibilities of maintaining dictionaries. Don’t we have Webster’s for that?
1. The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
2. The state of being married; wedlock.
3. A common-law marriage.
4. A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage.
civil union n. : a voluntary union for life (or until divorce) of adult parties of the same sex; "parties to a civil union have all the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under Vermont law as spouses in a marriage"
Webster’s has spoken. So long as Bush and other anti-gay marriage/pro-gay civil union supporters agree that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as straight couples, then Webster’s can make a few updates to their definitions and we can be done with it. What difference does it make what we call it so long as everyone has the same legal rights? Whether we are bound by a Pastor in a Church, a Rabbi in a synagogue, a judge in a courthouse or Elvis in Vegas, our government’s responsibility is to honor the legality of the union, it is up to Webster’s to describe words, and it is up to each couple to define their own marriage to ensure its success.
If we really think about this debate, doesn’t it seem silly that government bodies are wasting time, money, and precious resources determining whether they are going to recognize a marriage? Should all couples, homosexual or heterosexual, be granted a civil-union by the government and leave the word marriage out of the equation? Frankly, I would rather have my own relationship defined as a civil union these days. All I want from the law is to recognize the legality of our relationship for the purposes of property, insurance, benefits, and next of kin rights. I don’t want my relationship to be defined by people trying to defend the so-called “sanctity” of marriage through discrimination. How is defending the “sanctity” of marriage by discriminating homosexuals any different then how the “sanctity” of marriage was once protected by banning womens' right to vote or how the "sanctity" of our society was once protected by segregation? Discrimination is discrimination no matter who it is against. If the government wants to define marriage as an institution that discriminates against gays and lesbians then frankly I want nothing to do with that institution.
For other thoughts on this topic I strongly encourage you read Nancy’s piece on My Blog Is Not For You, or Keith Olbermann’s piece on MSNBC.