Attorney Argues for Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Partners

By Nelson, Gary E. | The Masthead, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Attorney Argues for Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Partners


Nelson, Gary E., The Masthead


Evan Wolfson gave NCEW members a lesson in framing an argument.

Wolfson, a civil rights attorney and executive director of Freedom to Marry, asked editorial writers to support a nationwide "civil rights conversation" on marriage rights. And he urged us to ban the term "gay marriage" from the lexicon.

The issue, he said, is whether government has any justification for denying marriage to any two people who wish to marry.

American courts have fundamentally changed the institution of marriage over the years, removing restrictions on divorce, allowing married couples to obtain contraceptives, and striking down laws banning interracial marriages. It was not until 1984, Wolfson noted, that the marital rape exemption was removed from the law. Until that point, a husband could not be convicted of raping his wife because, under the law, he was taking what belonged to him.

"When we ended that legal subordination of women, we transformed marriage," Wolfson said, "from a union based on domination to one based on love, commitment, and the choice of two equal partners."

The next step, in Wolfson's view, is recognizing that government has no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from the evolving institution of marriage. When society ends that discrimination, he said, "families are helped, no one is hurt, marriage is preserved."

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down race restrictions on marriage in 1967--nineteen years after the California Supreme Court had done so--seventy percent of Americans opposed interracial marriage, Wolfson said. "What kind of country would we have today if those courts had taken a poll?"

Then he pulled out all the rhetorical stops.

"Ask yourselves: What kind of country would we have today if the opponents of equality then, like the opponents of equality today, had run around the country mounting a campaign of stampeding through amendments to state constitutions and, if the president has his way, the federal Constitution, to lock into those precious charters of freedom the prejudices of the majority and the passions of the moment? …

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