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Lesbian Notions

The Not-So-Civil Marriage Debate

Paula Martinac | December 17, 2003

The recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on same-sex marriage was a historic step toward our full equality under the law. Given its significance, we should all be thrilled and energized. But instead, the decision has left some of us uneasy about the ugly antigay backlash already taking shape.

Right-wingers are claiming to be enraged by the decision, but, in fact, they're buoyed by the prospect of securing a second term for Bush over the wedge issue of marriage. Antigay legislators and lobbyists seeking to exorcise the same-sex marriage demon through a federal amendment have thrown their efforts into overdrive.

Making these political maneuverings worse is the barrage of media coverage dissecting same-sex relationships and why they do or do not deserve legal recognition. Although a number of reports and editorials have been supportive of the Massachusetts ruling, many have been vicious. On her radio program, Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, urged listeners to stop gay marriage, or it will lead to "the American public disintegrating and ... our enemies overtaking us because we have no moral will." (Read: Gay people are to blame for Sept. 11.)

It's easy to dismiss Rios and others like her as loose cannons. But what about the kinder, gentler conservatives of whom gay Republicans are so fond? National Public Radio, usually a left-leaning source of commentary, recently aired hurtful remarks by The National Review's Stanley Kurtz, who made the bizarre claim that gay marriage would ultimately work to the detriment of all American children. According to Kurtz, when straights can't claim marriage as their own anymore, they'll simply stop marrying, and their children will no longer enjoy the stability that marital unions bring. (Read: Gay people will be to blame for deadbeat straight parents.)

What makes "theories" like this more insidious than the rants of blatant homophobes like Rios is that they mask bigotry in terms of support - the old "some of my best friends are gay" humbug. Kurtz says he wants his gay friends and colleagues to have rights - just not this one. Or as the Alliance for Marriage delicately frames it, "Gays and lesbians have the right to live as they choose" - as long as it's not in same-sex marriages.

I'm sick to death of these antigay invectives, and the ink is hardly dry on the Massachusetts ruling. But then, right-wingers would like nothing better than for gay people and their allies to become so tired and drained - emotionally and financially - by struggling for marriage rights that we just give up the fight.

Even if we're tired, though, we can't afford the luxury of quitting. Indeed, we have to try harder than ever to foil the Republican plans to dishonor our relationships for the party's political gain. The following is a tactic I've advocated before, but it bears repeating: Each of us needs to press our straight families and friends to take this issue personally. Leaders of the black civil rights movement knew that they would accomplish their goals much more quickly if white people took up the cause as their own.

We need, then, to ask the straight people in our lives to speak up for us publicly - through letters to news media and legislators, speeches to church groups, e-mails to friends, conversations with co-workers. We want them to call attention to the fact that the right-wing drive against civil marriage rights, although cloaked in the guise of religion, is at its core politically driven and deeply hateful - and that it hurts people they care about.

Consider this example and share it with others: A year ago, the city of Cleveland Heights began granting health benefits to domestic partners of city employees. This wasn't about marriage rights for all gay Ohioans, but about health benefits for a very small number of civil servants. Immediately, antigay groups launched an all-out campaign to repeal those health benefits. Obviously, among the many things that God decreed in the Bible was that health-insurance benefits should be for heterosexual families only.

Consider this, too: In an effort to negate the need for same-sex marriage, the Family Research Council spreads the lie that the legal and financial benefits of marriage "are already afforded [gay couples] via a will, power of attorney, or contract." Not only is this paperwork extremely expensive (ours ran $1,000 six years ago, and my partner and I didn't even need documents for parental rights), but it could never begin to cover the many protections and benefits that civil marriage brings.

Deep down, the right's effort to exploit the marriage issue isn't about religion; it's a political attempt to deceive and confuse the public to win an election at the expense of a particular group of citizens. Understanding that should make the issue very, very personal - not just for gay people, but for all Americans who have lesbians and gay men in their lives.

Paula Martinac is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of seven books and editor in chief of Q Syndicate.

Previous editions
Recalling Reagan
Who Owns God?
Marriage Uncoupled


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