Political? Religious? Moral? To Gary and I this issue is just plain personal. Strip away the dogma and rhetoric and same-sex marriage comes down to common decency and respect. Both our state and federal constitutions are meant to protect society not to be used as tools to separate and discriminate. As a people, how many times must we be faced with civil rights issues? When laws are written to exclude people they are usually enacted out of ignorance and fear to protect the status quo. Thankfully, with time and hard work these laws that once seemed so obvious and dire to our fathers, become antiquated and the thought that went behind them no longer makes any sense. Today we are witness to this happening with gay civil rights. Quite simply, this issue is about equality under the law.
Our courts and justice are depicted as a blindfolded woman holding a scale in one hand and a sword in another. The scales show us that justice is impartial, the sword demonstrates that justice is swift, while the blindfold reminds us that justice is blind and can not be influenced. Our justices and judges, whether appointed or elected, have clearly defined roles. They are to interpret the law without bias.
Our elected officials have a thinner line to walk. While they are elected to office to represent the people, they are also elected to make decisions on our behalf. Many great leaders have found their strength and convictions tested when an issue arises that calls for them to vote differently than the people whom they represent. As citizens we have the luxury of voting selfishly as if every issue only affects us. Our elected officials do not have this luxury. We trust them with the knowledge and power that we are not always fair and educated. They are elected to be leaders, not mindless drones who put their fingers in the air to see which way the wind blows.
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All three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial, were set on a crash course in Massachusetts on November 18, 2003 when The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in GOODRIDGE & others vs. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH & another
SJC-08860 that gays and lesbians have the legal right to marry under the Massachusetts Constitution. They gave the legislature 180 days “to take such action as it may deem appropriate.” Immediately groups from across the country demanded this ruling not go into affect.
Trying to reach a compromise, the Massachusetts Senate authored bill 2175 proposing the creation of civil unions. However, there was concern that the creation of civil unions would be unconstitutional. The Senate then petitioned the court with bill 2176 asking the court "Does Senate, No. 2175, which prohibits same-sex couples from entering into marriage but allows them to form civil unions with all "benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities" of marriage, comply with the equal protection and due process requirements of the Constitution of the Commonwealth and articles 1, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 16 of the Declaration of Rights?" Their answer was a resounding NO. The Supreme Judicial Court's majority opinion stated "We are of the opinion that Senate No. 2175 violates the equal protection and due process requirements of the Constitution of the Commonwealth and the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Further, the particular provisions that render the pending bill unconstitutional." Marriage for same-sex couples was back on track for May 17, 2004.
The legislature responded by convening a constitutional convention on February 11-12 where 3 separate amendments to ban same sex marriage were voted down. They were the Travis amendment, the Finneran backed amendment, and the Senate amendment. Due to the process in which the Massachusetts Constitution can be amended, no amendment would be placed on the ballot for a vote by the people until 2006. The convention recessed until March 11, 2004.
On March 11th we saw a major political play in progress. Three more amendments to ban same-sex marriage passed. It became clear that legislators were switching their votes in order to further some amendments while defeating others. The convention was to resume on March 29th. March 29th came and more political posturing took place. In the end an a final amendment that would ban gay marriage but create civil unions was passed onto the 2005 Constitutional Convention. In order for the amendment to be added to the constitution, the amendment must pass another vote in 2005, and then appear on a ballot in 2006, and finally pass a vote by the people in Massachusetts.
None of the above stopped May 17, 2004 from arriving. Case after case was dismissed until on May 14th, the Supreme Court of the United States of America refused to stop the issuance of marriage licenses to same sex marriage couples. On May 17, 2004 Gary and I were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Salem Massachusetts, receive a three day waiver, and were married on the steps of City Hall.
We have heard quite a few arguments on why gay couples should not be allowed to get married or that the civil marriage we have been granted should be taken away. Trust me...we've heard it all. Some opinions are well thought out and some don't make any logical sense. Below are the most common.
Homosexuality is a sin!
“The bible says what you do is an abomination!” It also says you can sell your daughter into slavery and that you should sacrifice animals to G-d. We read somewhere in the Ten Commandments “Though shalt not commit adultery.” We suppose it’s ok to pick and choose which bible verses you want to quote. Luckily our governments, both state and local, are not governed by the bible or any religion. So regardless what the bible says, it shouldn’t affect our civil rights.
Marriage is between a man and a woman.
“Two men or two women can’t marry…it’s just not natural.” It’s true that until recently marriage was between a man and a woman. That is called traditional marriage. However, we are talking about here is civil marriage and we are not asking for any religion to accept our commitment. We are talking about the government and being treated equally under the law.
Gay people just can’t commit.
“I’ve seen lots of gay people and they are always with another person.” Until recently there hasn’t been a next step for gay and lesbian couples. How can you say they can’t commit if you don’t allow them to?
Same-sex marriage harms our children.
“Children have a right to have both a mother and a father.” In a perfect world every child would be born to and wanted by their parents. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. There are many many children waiting to be adopted in Massachusetts and across the country. Since the early 1990’s gay couples have been able to co-adopt in our state. Not one study has shown that these children are any less adjusted than children in opposite sex parents household. Studies have also shown that gay couples raising children do not make their children gay. It just makes them more open minded and accepting. Not such a bad thing to teach children if you ask us!
What will our children have to learn in the classroom?
“I don’t want my kids to be forced to learn about alternative lifestyles in school.” This points to an age old and larger argument of what is taught in public school. Yet, it is a valid question. Since homosexuality is about more than just sex, I doubt there are any plans to teach the details of homosexual sex in the classroom. We are guessing common sense will prevail and something may be mentioned on a case by case basis. For example, some children may be teasing little Johnny because he has two dads or two moms. The teacher might address those children or the class and explain that little Johnny has two dads and that teasing each other has no place in the classroom. Phew…disaster averted. I was beginning to think the teacher was going to start explaining how gay people have sex to children!
Same-sex marriage makes being gay ok.
“If you reward these people with the benefits of marriage, then you are promoting being gay.” Trust me on this one, if you don’t have any inclination to be with a member of the same sex the fact that same-sex couples can marry will not make you want to be gay. Gay people exist. Being able to marry or not won’t make more of us or make us go away. The same argument works for heterosexuals too. My parents can and did marry. It didn’t make me want to be straight!
Are my insurance premiums going to increase?
“I am against same-sex marriage if it is going to cost me anything.” We love this one. This argument tells us that society has actually been benefiting by the existence of homosexuals. If everyone was straight we would be able to claim our spouses as dependants anyway. But since we aren’t the insurance companies actually get a break by us being gay and pass on those savings to everyone else. So being gay is good for cuttings costs…hmmmm. We hope that the cost of personal freedoms outweighs that kind of thinking. Not to mention the fact that most insurance policies cost as much for spousal a dependant as that person having their own so it’s a wash. Money in money out.
Let the people vote.
Activist judges have silenced the legislature and we the people should have a say.” We live in a representative government. In this case a majority of judges interpreted the constitution to allow and protect same-sex couples right to civil marriage. When in our history, after a court has granted rights, have we called for a vote or constitutional amendment to take these rights away simply because we don’t like it? Civil rights should never be left to a vote. Not in the legislature and not for the people. We the people have a nasty habit of hurting those we don’t like.
Though we can celebrate an enormous victory in Massachusetts, if we sit back and relax it will be short lived. Now is not the time to get comfortable. The battle is on two fronts, state and federal. The way we it, lets get our house in order first and then worry about the neighborhood. Protecting the right we have won here seems like a good place to start.
Everyone can do something. Some people are great talkers, writers, sign makers, web designers. Just doing what you do best will help so get involved! Our advise is Talk, talk talk!
Talk to your friends, family, and call or write your state senator, representative, and governor. Not just once, but frequently. Ask for a meeting if you feel comfortable. If you feel strongly enough do the same on a national level. MassEquality.com provides a great place to get the info you will need. Check out our links page and get involved!
Don’t leave it up to others to protect your rights, and remember you are your best advocate. It’s up to us educate and help others understand who we are and what we want. Don’t let us lose because we were too afraid to stand up and demand equal treatment under the law.
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