Academic journal article Nebula

It's Still a Long Way Coming: The Importance of Humanizing the Same-Sex Marriage Discussion

Academic journal article Nebula

It's Still a Long Way Coming: The Importance of Humanizing the Same-Sex Marriage Discussion

Article excerpt

August 1996. The incessant ringing of the telephone on his bedside table awakens David at 2:15 A.M.. Through his grogginess he is finally able to recognize his sister-in-law's voice and process her words: "There's been an accident." Chris has been in Texas for the last week, attending a conference. Although they have been married for over five years, the hospital's first call was to Chris's parents. Chris's sister has been kind enough to notify David. Even though he will be on the next available flight to Dallas, David will not see Chris for another four days, since Chris's parents do not recognize his marriage to David, and neither does the state of Texas.

It has now been fifteen years since the battle over same-sex marriage came to the legal forefront. In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that it was unlawful for the state to deny marriage licenses to couples solely on the basis of sexual orientation. It was found that such denials were in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, unless a "compelling reason" could be shown for the discrimination. And, yet, by the end of the decade, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had been signed into law in addition to the numerous states (including Hawaii) that had amended their constitutions to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman (George 33). As with any polarizing issue, there are at least two sides, and to state that the issue of same-sex marriage polarizes is an understatement. Those opposed to same-sex marriage, who call themselves "Pro Marriage Activists," tend to focus their rhetoric around the term "marriage" itself. The same-sex marriage of my friends David and Chris is portrayed as not only a distortion of the term, but a threat to the family.

The assertion that marriage has always referred to one man and one woman joined in a union to provide for the rearing of children troubles me. However, I find the arguments on the other side just as disturbing. Proponents of same-sex marriage rally their arguments behind the issues of civil rights and equal protection under the law. They ask, how can this country, founded on the principle that all men are created equal, legally restrict whom one marries? The answer to this question, to me, is obvious--ethically and morally, it cannot be justified. But this discourse misses the point. The understanding that we as a society are not talking about a same-sex couple, but two people who love each other, has been shunted aside during the discussion. It is all too easy to withhold someone's rights when we speak in the abstract, as the "Pro Marriage Activists" do in their discussion of the term "marriage." Similarly, the proponents of same-sex marriage have diluted their arguments by focusing on law, instead of human needs. It is my contention that in order for society to reach humane legal decisions, we must continually place the actual people and their stories at the forefront of the debate.

Before examining the idea that both sides of the same-sex marriage debate leave a critical aspect of the issue out of the discussion, it is important to scrutinize on what exactly they do center their rhetoric. As stated earlier, "Pro Marriage Activists" focus their arguments against same-sex marriage on the term "marriage." In February 2007, a panel consisting of four speakers, all of whom are connected to the current California litigation regarding homosexual marriage, convened to discuss the issue. During the debate (SSMC), The Honorable Ken Starr asserts that the institution of marriage has "historically been understood to be the union of one man and one woman" and "is in fact part of our history and part of our tradition, part of our culture ... [The] legal definition of marriage corresponds to the definition of most religions" ("Same-Sex Marriage in California: Legal and Political Prospects"). This traditionalist and historicist argument is frequently used by opponents of same-sex marriage. …

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