Friday, November 05, 2004

Fairness, justice, and morality, oh my!

As a musician, it is not surprising that over half of my students, friends and colleagues are homosexual. This stereotype is true, for whatever reason. On Tuesday, I saw eleven states vote to relegate these people to the status of second-class citizens. In Arkansas, the new amendment says that "legal status for unmarried persons which is identical or substantially similar to marital status shall not be valid or recognized in Arkansas," which effectively bans any type of civil union. Georgia's new amendment says that "No union between persons of the same sex shall be recognized by this state as entitled to the benefits of marriage. " Kentucky will "not allow legal status identical to or similar to marriage for unmarried individuals, such as civil unions, regardless of where they were performed." Michigan is a little more unclear: "No other relationship shall be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent by the state..." though it is likely that "legal equivalent" will also ban civil unions. North Dakota says that "Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect." Utah says that "no other domestic union may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equal legal effect." Ohio and Oklahoma are even broader: "...This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage." "It prohibits giving the benefits of marriage to people who are not married." Oregon, Mississippi and Montana seem to only ban marriage, not civil unions. So in eight states, homosexual people are denied the right to hospital visitation, the right to plan their partner's funeral, the right to not disclose the contents of confidential communications between the couple in legal cases, Social Security and Medicare benefits, and insurance coverage for a financially dependent partner. All of these are benefits and rights of marriage, which those eight states have said cannot be conferred to anyone other than a heterosexual couple. No legal document can be drawn up to mimic these specific rights (the link I give mentions other benefits of marriage that can be duplicated with wills and other legal arrangements). This means that in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Utah, homosexual people do not have access to the same rights, the very definition of a second-class citizen.

Some people will argue that homosexual people can gain the benefits of marriage by marrying a person of the opposite sex. But this is an un-American thought. The Declaration of Independence states that "We [Americans] hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." (emphasis added) Forcing anyone choose between love and legal rights is to hinder that person's pursuit of happiness.

This institutionalized descrimination against a set of people is not fair or just. What about moral? Most people for these discriminatory amendments cite religious texts to support their cause. Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, and Corinthians are all brought out to show that homosexuality is morally wrong. But this is a religious argument, and the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 1, guarantees the right of all people to the freedom of religion. There are Christian, Jewish, and other religious practices that do not believe that homosexuality is immoral. The freedom of religion gives people the right to disagree with these practices, but it also gives equal legal weight to both beliefs. Given the literal contradictions in the Bible and Torah, any consistent religious belief based on those texts must ignore some passages in favor of others. It is not the job of the government to make the decision of which interpretation is correct, which should be of immense relief to all interested parties. (Protestants, imagine that the government decides that the Pope is a direct inheritor from St. Peter and must be obeyed. Catholics, imagine that the government decides that worshipping saints is akin to idolatry.) So the religious argument of morals cannot stand up to the principles of American democracy: freedom of religion, and the pursuit of happiness.

Some people argue that homosexuality is a mental disease, and that homosexual marriage will lead to polygamy, ruining the social values of marriage. But these arguments are weak at best, particularly as the arguments against polygamy are quite different from homosexuality. Polygamy is banned because it objectifies women and in practice often involved child brides, which is not a concern with homosexual marriage. As for the mental disease argument, it has not been considered so by professional psychiatrists since 1986. Here is a complete history of mental health and homosexuality.

Please, please, please work to reverse the marginalization of homosexuals in our country. Fight against any bans on civil unions, even if your religious beliefs prevent you from accepting homosexual marriage. Pursuade your neighbors that religious beliefs are necessarily separate from legal rights. See homosexual men and women as people, rather than monsters.

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