Achieving marriage equality for all

Patrick Miner

Last week, Vermont passed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage beginning in September. The week prior, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state had no right to deny citizens the right to marriage based on sexual orientation; this takes effect April 27. Iowa and Vermont will join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only four states to currently permit same-sex marriage. Several other states have civil-unions or other domestic partnership options, but those are extremely limited in the rights they afford their participants.
As Ryan Day pointed out in last week’s issue, these policy shifts are tremendous milestones in the effort to bring marriage equality to all. Vermont’s legislative approach and subsequent override of Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto was especially impressive.
However, a great deal of work is still ahead. Some, myself included, are wary of the term “same-sex marriage,” or at least of its current use, for several reasons.
First, the term perpetuates the use of the word “sex” to classify persons who may or may not wish to identify as “female” or “male.” While the sex/gender distinction is perhaps a topic for another time, it’s always worthwhile to note sensitive terminology, especially when dealing with an issue as important as basic human rights.
Second, it implies that couples deciding to marry under its banner are granted the same rights as heterosexual couples, when in fact they are denied over 1,000 benefits, rights and privileges according to a 2004 report compiled by the Government Accountability Office for then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN).
Same-sex marriages are certainly an improvement over civil unions, but due to the Defense of Marriage Act, the soon-to-be 46 states that do not allow same-sex marriages do not have to recognize the marriages performed in the other states – though several have made independent decisions expanding their acceptance of marriages performed elsewhere.
DOMA states the following: “No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.” It also lays out the following definition: “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
In 1996, the DOMA overwhelmingly passed the House 342-67 and the Senate 85-14. President Clinton signed it into law Sept. 21. One might wonder why Clinton thought himself qualified to sign his name on something called “The Defense of Marriage Act.” One might also wonder why he often receives such high praise for his domestic policy when he didn’t even bother to veto this ridiculous piece of legislation.
Therein lies another issue: citizens forgetting or ignoring the positions of their elected officials. While going largely without criticism for a multitude of other offenses that I won’t discuss here (e.g. war crimes), Clinton managed to put this accomplishment under his belt without significant criticism a month before Election Day in 1996.
Twelve years later, nearly 70 million Americans gave their votes to Barack Obama, who says marriage is “between a man and a woman” and that he is “not in favor of gay marriage” (see various interviews: the latest pre-election interview is one with MTV that aired Nov. 3). We should pressure Congress and Obama for federal action on the issue of marriage equality.
DOMA needs to be repealed, and marriage needs to be defined without hetero-normative irrationality. Any arguments based solely on religion should be immediately disregarded due to the fact that the U.S. government is secular – though people are continuously attempting to undermine that secularism.
I never thought I would say this, but perhaps a Facebook group sums it up best: “Against Gay Marriage? Then Don’t Get One and Shut the F*** Up.