Friday, July 24, 2009
Separate Not Equal: Right to the Altar Needs Altering
Here is my first attempt at an Opinions Page-style editorial piece. Would love to know what you think! Thanks for reading.
In the controversy swirling around the moral and legal implications of same-sex marriage, activists and government officials across the political spectrum are raising their voices for and against a gay couple’s right to marry. The issue at hand that has both sides up in arms is the right to call the legal agreement into which two people enter when they decide to spend their lives together “marriage.” Those opposed to gay marriage are not opposed to the practical adoption, employment, or insurance benefits that are already afforded to gay couples through civil unions: it is the term “marriage,” not the institution, that those opposed are struggling to restrict.
Though he campaigned on a platform to support gay rights, even President Obama is falling victim to this increasingly heated argument. President Obama has said , “gays should not face discrimination but should not marry.” By this double standard, President Obama is letting himself become the classic hypocritical political puppet: denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry is discrimination. Mr. President instead supports civil unions, which are separate from marriages but provide gay couples “equal legal rights and privileges as married couples.” This double standard calls to mind the incendiary buzz-phrase of past fights for civil rights: separate but equal. Which begs the question: if marriage and civil unions are truly equal, why must they be separate at all?
When the racist ruling of 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson was overruled sixty years later with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled, “separate institutions are inherently unequal.” The privileges provided to black students under Plessy were always separate and never equal to the opportunities and facilities afforded to white students. The very same “separate but equal” paradigm between gay and straight couples will arise if marriage is to remain separate and therefore unequal.
One can also see a parallel between the civil rights battle of a scant fifty years ago for equal rights for Black Americans and this one for the equal rights of gay Americans in anti-miscegenation laws. In the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, the court wrote in its decision, “Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival […] To deny this fundamental freedom […] is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.” While one can be grateful that the fundamental freedom for straight couples to marry whomever they like was finally upheld, one might wonder why some groups of society are still limited by the government in whether they will be honored at the altar. The ruling went on to say, “The freedom of choice to marry [may] not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
It is about time a member of the Supreme Court called the restriction of marriage from gay and lesbian couples an incendiary word even close to “invidious,” an adjective that can mean offensively or unfairly discriminating or injurious but also obsolete. There should never be a constitutional amendment to prevent a freedom to any group of people in this “land of the free;” discrimination of any kind is obviously unconstitutional. Until “homophobe” conjures up the same apologetic fervor as “racist,” logical and empathetic Americans must realize that separate can never be equal, and that the fight for civil rights for all Americans is never really over.