Editors' Note: Guest blogger Carlos Mock, MD has published three books and is the Floricanto Press editor for its GLBT series. He was inducted in the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame in October of 2007. He grew up middle-class in the suburbs of San Juan, Puerto Rico. His website is: www.carlostmock.com
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
LET US WED. It rests on equality, liberty, and even society.
Let us wed...That idea remains shocking to many people. The sight of homosexual men and women having wedding days just like those enjoyed for centuries by heterosexuals is unsettling, just as, for some people, is the sight of us holding hands or kissing.
The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple.
The Netherlands was the first modern nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. Same-sex marriages are also legal in Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, and Nepal. Today, in the United States, same-sex couples can marry in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but their unions are not recognized nationally. The U.S. states of Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire offer civil unions. Also, Oregon has domestic partnership laws that grant some of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Maine, Washington, Maryland, and the District of Columbia grant certain limited benefits through domestic partnerships, and Hawaii has reciprocal beneficiary laws.
Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else? Not just because they have always lacked that right in the past, for sure: until the 1967, in some American states it was illegal for African-American adults to marry white ones, but precious few would defend that ban now on grounds that it was "traditional".
Another argument is rooted in semantics: marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and so cannot be extended to same-sex couples. They may live together and love one another, but cannot, by this argument, be "married". But that is to dodge the real question-why not?--and to obscure the real nature of marriage, which is a binding commitment, at once legal, social and personal, between two people to take on special obligations to one another. If homosexuals want to make such marital commitments to one another, and to society, then why should we be prevented from doing so while other adults, equivalent in all other ways, are allowed to do so?
Civil unions are not enough!
The case against same sex marriage, according to the religious right, is that this would damage an important social institution. When same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, a huge uproar was predicted. But the sky never fell, and the uproar became a low hum. In Massachusetts, same sex couples now look like any other SUV couple with two parents, a kid, and a golden retriever on a quiet suburban street. We've even begun the next, less cheerful, chapter in equality: same-sex divorce. Ironically, Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country.
So the reverse is surely true. Gays want to marry precisely because we see marriage as important: we want the symbolism that marriage brings, the extra sense of obligation and commitment, as well as the social recognition. Allowing gays to marry would, if anything, add to social stability, for it would increase the number of couples that take on real, rather than simply passing, commitments. The weakening of marriage has been heterosexuals' doing, not gays', for it is their infidelity, divorce rates and single-parent families that have wrought social damage.
But marriage is about children, say some: to which the answer is, often, but not always, (we allow infertile couples to marry) and permitting gay marriage would not alter that. Or it is a religious act, say others: to which the answer is, yes, you may believe that, but if so it is no business of the state to impose a religious status. Besides, some religious denominations are performing marriages already--unfortunately without any of the legal benefits that a "legal" marriage would convey. Indeed, in America the constitution expressly bans the involvement of the state in religious matters, so it would be especially outrageous if the constitution were now to be used for religious ends-as some proponents of the constitutional amendment in America, banning gay marriage would pretend to do.
The importance of marriage for society's general health and stability also explains why the commonly mooted alternative to gay marriage-a so-called civil union-is not enough. Yet, those civil unions would be both wrong in principle and damaging for society. Marriage, as it is commonly viewed in society, is more than just a legal contract. Moreover, to establish something short of real marriage for some adults would tend to undermine the notion for all. Separate but equal was ruled unconstitutional in the civil rights struggle and it should be no different for same sex couples.
Let us remember Loving v. Virginia, (1967) where The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions in a unanimous decision, dismissing the Commonwealth of Virginia's argument that a law forbidding both white and black persons from marrying persons of another race, and providing identical penalties to white and black violators, could not be construed as racially discriminatory. The court ruled that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the Court's decision, Chief Justice Warren wrote:
Marriage is one of 'the basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.