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
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
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
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
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