9/17/2006

What is Marriage Anyway? The Civil Rights Argument

The argument about marriage as a family issue and one where damage can be done to the family structure could go on and on. However, there are many other arguments to discuss. Another huge argument concerns the civil rights of gays and the constitutionality of these amendments. One speaker, Shelley Klein, of the national Hadassah, a Jewish women’s organization dedicated to righting social injustices, expressed her concern over the imposition this amendment made to individual civil rights. Though there has been some contention in Hadassah over gay rights, one thing they couldn’t ignore is that no matter what they may feel over “gay rights”, per se, is that a trend is occurring where these amendments supersede simply gay rights and transition into a civil rights issue. In other words, one group is pointedly left out of the social equation with these amendments and as such the Constitution is being used as a tool for discrimination, instead of its traditional use in expanding rights to the disenfranchised.

Other speakers, like Chris Sanders and Abby Rubenfeld, reiterated this point several times throughout the night as well. For them, this was the basic argument no matter what our religious or personal views were on the amendment. It is wrong and discriminatory to cut out one group from the social fabric of our society, to single them out for inequitable treatment. The constitution, whether state or federal, has never been used for this purpose. It’s contrary to our very essence as a country where we have worked hard and used the constitution to expand rights for the disenfranchised, not remove rights. Another thing we have not done as a society until now is put the majority in charge of voting on the rights of the minority. The constitution states that it is there to protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. What’s more tyrannical than saying you can’t marry the person you love? What connotes more control and dominance over an Americans personal rights and decisions than to say we don’t like it so you can’t do it? And, as I pointed out above, this is about more than marriage but about trying to control even our ability to provide health insurance (DP benefits) for our partners. A “benefit” which by the way we pay huge taxes on. My partner and I both had DP benefits for the other at different times. We lost an extra $200 a month on taxes to cover this “benefit.” Heterosexual couples don’t pay that tax.

Some groups will claim that with the obvious argument that our marriage rights aren’t about civil rights that the majority has been determining the rights of the minority since the founding of the country. However, those were not through direct votes but through their legislators. We’ve seen how much backbone our legislators can have with this issue (please note, I’m being highly sarcastic) so why not use the tried and true process of letting the elected officials make these decisions. Because history has shown as well, that anytime a majority tried to undermine the rights of the minority it was found to be unconstitutional. The proponents of these amendments think that by being able to say that the voters directly said they don’t want gays to marry that it will have more weight. It won’t. These actions were found unconstitutional once and they’ll be found unconstitutional again, an affront to our basic civil rights. What is more basic of a civil right than marrying the person you love? Sure, our opposition say we have the right to marry as long as it’s someone of the opposite sex, but how would they like it if the rule applied to them. Sure, they can marry as long as it’s someone of the same sex. Why marry someone you don’t love? Wouldn’t such behavior only perpetuate the problems surrounding divorce and broken families?

Abby Rubenfeld made a tongue-in-cheek observation but still one that is very true. She said she began her legal practice in the 1980s in NY at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Back then, there was railing and ranting about how gay people, especially gay men, were so promiscuous. However, gays now are wanting to settle down, be responsible, but are told that they can’t by these very same people. As Abby said, “Someone needs to make up their mind.”

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