Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gay Marriage and Equal Protection Under the Law

Demonstrated by the collective yawn of a nation when given the news that Vermont and Iowa had moved the ball forward, gay marriage supporters are cautiously optimistic that the majority of Americans are ignoring that histrionic bleating from the religious right and choosing to save their short attention spans for things that truly matter to them, like jobs and food and being able to have money in their retirement account when they turn 65.

Governor David Patterson of New York has even put forth the view that the Empire State should revisit the same-sex marriage issue, lest hipsters in Brooklyn and the entire population of the East Village find themselves trailing Iowa (Iowa? Really??) in progressive social matters. How long before we spot DeKalb corn hats and John Deere color schemes incorporated into the trendy fashion scene as yellow corn cobs on green backgrounds becomes the Von Dutch of 2010?

That's the superficial view, though, and what's really at stake here is equal protection under the law. It's encouraging that for the gay and lesbian community, after waiting 230 years for the privilege, may finally be granted some of the same protections that the rest of us have enjoyed since birth.

Marriage is a wonderful thing, and we should embrace its value while understanding its purpose. For most, getting wed is a religious event, where couples stand before family and friends while a member of their clergy recognizes and validates their unity in the eyes of the church - after they present a civil, government-issued marriage license.

Government cares not which religious ceremony you hold, if you hold one at all, any more than they care what caterer you choose or whether you go the cummerbund route or vest it up with your bridal party. What concerns government is ensuring that society is organized in such a way as to facilitate the application of common laws and principals for the greater good.

When two people, gay or straight, are willing to profess their love and commitment to each other in a formal manner, and choose to formalize this bond in the eyes of society, there should be no delineation when it concerns equal protection under the law. Justice is supposed to be blind, and the application of legal principle should not be driven by whether a particular religious affiliation gives a thumbs-up to the union based on their particular value system.

It's completely understandable if Catholics, Jews, United Methodists, Southern Baptists, and other denominations find same-sex marriage to fall outside the boundaries of accepted behavior for their particular brand of worship, and therefore cannot support religious recognition of the commitment via a church wedding ceremony. No one is suggesting that clergy be required to marry same-sex couples.

But a denominationally-recognized ceremony should not be a requirement for society to enforce the guarantee of governmental adherence to equal protection statutes and to require the full weight and power of the local, state, and federal government to ensure that all who choose to formalize their love can make medical decisions for their partner, benefit from existing property laws, and participate in financial and economic programs whose supposed purpose is the broad benefit of society.

Recognition of same-sex unions from a civil and legal perspective is a concept whose time has arrived and the fact that most Americans believe in the enforcement of basic rights over "gathering storms" means that it will be very difficult to hold back the swell of support for continued progress across this land.

It's a scary time for the religious right as they see control of the discussion snatched away from their narrow interpretation of morality as it is placed instead in the context of society and what is right, rather than what is moral according to their denomination. But it's not more frightening than to be unable to make life and death decisions for your partner as she lays unresponsive in a hospital bed, or to continue to raise a child in a stable family environment if one of the daddies should happen to suffer a tragedy.

A tip of my hat to Iowa and Vermont, and to New York (maybe), and to the other states that have chosen to be the tip of the spear in this struggle. Your work and sacrifice is noble and true.

Speaking for my traditional family of a married man and woman, with three healthy, happy children, we don't feel at all threatened by your new-found ability to be like us.

Welcome to the party. Can I get you something to drink?

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