Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Turn

My op-ed on marriage equality appeared in today's Burlington Free Press. In addition to airing my perspective on the matter, I've learned that pro-gay letters and op-ed's are a great way to keep homophobic wingnuts warm and busy on these cold winter days. (We wouldn't want them to catch a chill, after all.) The online response to my pieces, here and here, has been, um, illuminating. (Anti-gay people also seem to be anti-spelling, anti-grammar, and anti-coherence.) Fortunately, the anti-gay people who have nothing better to do than hang around forums spouting nonsense don't have much power in Vermont these days. I sent pro-marriage-equality letters to my four local VT representatives this past week and in less than 24 hours all had written back expressing their support for passing a marriage bill this year. Their open-mindedness makes me proud to be a Vermonter. (Our current governor, however, does not.) I wish some of that open-mindedness would spread to the whole US. For that to happen, we may need to have a more open-minded Supreme Court, something that seems more possible now that it's President Obama instead of President Bush. 

My Turn: Time is right for marriage equality

Recently, while visiting California, my partner and I were seated beside four young people in a crowded bakery. In the midst of enjoying our pastries, we overheard two of the young people announce to the other two that they were planning to get married.

Congratulations ensued, along with carefree discussions of wedding and honeymoon plans. This was a straight couple. A gay couple couldn't make such a carefree announcement. In the aftermath of the passage of California's Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, the status of legally married gay couples in California is now uncertain, while gay couples who wish to wed will be forbidden from doing so.

Though I restrained myself from butting into this young couple's happiness, I wanted to ask them if they realized that what they were taking for granted, the simple right to express their love through marriage, was something that had been taken away from equally committed gay couples, even couples who had been loving and caring for one another longer than this young couple had been alive.

This incident has stayed with me since my partner and I returned to Vermont. Like gay couples in California, we don't have the right to marry. Why is that? We pay the same taxes as straight people do. We've supported each other through the deaths of family members, just as straight people do. We're good Vermont neighbors. We love each other. Two straight people could meet one another today and get married next week. But if my partner of 18 years and I were to try to get married, we'd be refused.

People put forth various reasons why gay people shouldn't have marriage equality. Some of these reasons stem from the belief that homosexuality is wrong and that allowing same-sex couples to marry will infringe on religious freedoms. Even when same-sex couples are allowed to marry, individuals will remain free to hold whatever personal beliefs they choose. Churches will not be forced to marry same-sex couples, since civil marriage laws have no bearing on religious marriage ceremonies. Furthermore, it was already established in the 1999 Vermont Supreme Court Baker decision that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits and protections as opposite-sex couples.

Debates about homosexuality are beside the point. Other people argue that since civil unions were designed to provide the same benefits and protections as marriage, they are equal enough. This argument defies logic. If civil unions and marriage are truly equal, there's no need for separate categories.

Classifying couples solely on the basis of their sexual orientation is inherently discriminatory. The only justification for it is to imply that one type of love is superior to another, one type of human being superior to another. If the difference between civil unions and civil marriage is trivial, as some suggest, why make the distinction? If civil unions are sufficient, as Gov. Douglas has stated, why not leave "marriage" to the churches and have the state provide civil unions to opposite and same-sex couples alike? If this were put before the Legislature, I suspect civil unions would no longer be "sufficient."

In the past eight years, Vermonters have come to understand that the fear surrounding civil unions was unfounded. Discrimination threatens people, equality shouldn't. The 2009 legislative session is an opportunity for Vermont to once again demonstrate our fair-minded spirit and set a positive example for the rest of the country. Gay couples in Vermont, and everywhere else, should be able to announce their intentions to marry as freely and joyfully as a young straight couple in California.


Ben in Oakland said...

Ernie: this is something I wrote before the election--very simnilar to what you have said. It was published in a few newspapers. I hope it is all right to post it here... Ben in Oakland

To begin with, I am no one in particular. I'm just a happy, middle class, middle aged, middle-of-the-road gay man who hopes my marriage will survive the election. It seems to me that missing in all of the arguments about Prop. 8 are both a clear view of gay people, and a simple understanding about what marriage means to us. I would like to provide that perspective, in the form of a...


Two months ago, I married the man I love and share my life with to the acclaim and pleasure of our families and friends. Paul and I have known each other for seven years, and have been married in all but name for the past six. Both of us are contributing, tax-paying, law-abiding, and productive members of our community. We live active, healthy, and positive lives. We are well thought of by family, friends, and colleagues, and live in peace with our neighbors. Despite all this, some people think that the fact that we are both men is the only thing of importance, and that this invalidates our love, our commitment, and especially, our claim to equality before the law. Some will even go so far as to claim we're a threat to family, children, and faith.

We're not a threat to anyone or anything. Nor is our marriage. We're just Ben and Paul. And we want to stay married.

Let me tell you a little more about us. Gay people and straight people, taken as a whole, are pretty much alike. This includes matters like romance, family, marriage, and religion. And why shouldn't we be alike? We're your relatives and friends, your colleagues and neighbors. We're you.

Our love is as deep and abiding and committed as any couple you can name. We married because we love each other, and share our lives and fortunes together-- just like you. We were excited about our wedding, our rings, and sharing our joy with our loved ones-- just like you. We have promised to be there for each other in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, and to be a married couple for the rest of our lives-- just like you.

Because of the strength of these promises and our life together, our marriage contributes to society in exactly the same way that yours does. We don't have children, but there are at least 70,000 children with gay and lesbian parents in California. If strong marriages build strong families, and marriage and family are the foundations of society, don't our marriages, families, and children matter as much as yours? Why would you tell gay people to take their building blocks and stay home?

Our wedding and our promises mean as much to us, and to our friends and families, as yours do to you. Perhaps more. You see, you probably have never had to question whether you could marry the person you love best in all the world. It's your right, after all. But it isn't ours. Prop. 8 supporters claim that we gay people, via domestic partner laws, already have all of the rights afforded you by marriage. Maybe, except this one: the rightness, the validity, the very existence of your marriage will NEVER, EVER be debated, much less voted upon, by complete strangers. But you can vote on our rights and our marriages. Just as you can vote on the continued existence of those domestic partner laws, or on any statutory protection of our lives and families. Just as you can vote on laws that say that separate but equal is good enough.

Just like Prop. 8.

What if you had to ask 16 million people for permission to marry your beloved? How would you feel if the love and commitment you bear your beloved is, at best, diminished and devalued as unimportant? Or at worst, denigrated as sick, sinful, and dangerous, and such a threat to family and society that a constitutional amendment must be passed to protect them? Would you like it if someone had the power to make your marriage disappear? How would you feel if you were told that separate-but-equal was good enough for you? We Americans tried that before, and it doesn't work.

Are we not human enough, not citizens enough, to grant us the right to marry? Paul and I want for us, our friends, and our families exactly what you get from our government: the same dignity, the same respect, and the same equality before the law that you demand for yourselves. That’s all of it. Our lives and our families are every bit as valuable as yours. You don't have to approve of or accept gay people, or to be a part of our lives; we have plenty of people who do. We are not attacking your marriages, your families, your faith, or your civil rights, or preventing them from being legally protected. Can you say the same about yourselves?

We want to take nothing from you. We want only the same rights and protections that you have. Nothing more.

And nothing less.

place in sun said...

Thanks, Ben. I'm most happy to include it.