The Growing Debate over Same-Sex Marriages Finds Both Political and Religious Activists Struggling to Define Legal Bounds of Matrimony Holy Unions, Holy War

By Hennessy, Joan | The Florida Times Union, July 22, 1996 | Go to article overview
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The Growing Debate over Same-Sex Marriages Finds Both Political and Religious Activists Struggling to Define Legal Bounds of Matrimony Holy Unions, Holy War


Hennessy, Joan, The Florida Times Union


To neighbors, Dennis Stouse and Roger Underwood are the couple

down the block -- the ones with the neatly kept yard.

For friends, they are a committed pair who have been together

two years.

Relatives see them simply as part of the family.

But if a proposed law is approved by the U.S. Senate, Stouse

and his partner may never be more than two guys sharing the same

address.

That is because the "Defense of Marriage Act," approved

overwhelmingly by the House earlier this month, defines marriage

as the formal union between "one man and one woman." A spouse,

the law adds, "refers only to a person of the opposite sex who

is a husband or a wife."

This would prevent a partner in a homosexual relationship from

claiming Social Security, veterans or other federal benefits in

the event of the other's death or disability.

It concerns Stouse, editor of Out & About, a monthly gay and

lesbian newspaper. However, the greater issue for him is

personal. "I look forward to the time I can legalize this

relationship," he said. Supporters of the legislation have said

it was needed to head off the possible results of a court case

that could lead Hawaii to legalize gay marriage.

Gay activists have asserted this is "election year gaybashing"

and an attempt to corner President Bill Clinton. If Clinton

signs the bill -- and he has said he will -- he risks

disillusioning gay constituents, activists point out. If he does

not sign the bill, this issue of same-sex marriage could become

a focus during the campaign. Stouse put it this way: "We [the

gay and lesbian community] are being used as a battering ram."

A different analysis was offered by Robert Knight, director of

cultural studies at the Family Research Council, a group that

has worked with the Christian ministry, Focus on the Family.

"The reason marriage is subsidized and supported by government

and corporations [through tax breaks and spousal benefits] is

because it is indispensable to society," he said. "Homosexual

relationships are not."

Meanwhile, a civil rights attorney said more on this issue is

to come. Holy matrimony

There is an exchange of rings. Vows are taken. A candle is lit

and usually, there is Holy Communion.

It is similar to a marriage ceremony, said Frankye White,

senior pastor at St. Luke's Metropolitan Community Church. The

difference is that the couples are two women or two men.

It is not a legal marriage. It is a union, she said.

"It is a vital part of the ministry of our church," White said.

"It is seen as part of honoring gay relationships as valued and

valuable."

There is need to be universally accepting of others, observed

Duane Dumbleton, downtown campus president of Florida Community

College at Jacksonville and chairman of the Jacksonville Baha'i

Community.

Yet Dumbleton also offered this perspective on marriage: "Faith

groups define marriage as between a man and a woman."

From this viewpoint, marriage is an institution in which a

family is formed, he said, and "the spiritual and material

advancement of humanity takes place."

But should law mirror religious convictions?

"It is important that we make certain that our laws . . .

aren't ruled by the Bible," said Honey Ward, president and

facilitator of The Experience, a personal growth and community

action workshop focused in the gay and lesbian community.

Not all share her opinion.

"Religious law preceded civil law and is the foundation for our

entire legal system," said Knight of the Family Research

Council.

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