Sunday, March 29, 2009

The fight for same-sex marriage

In "Gay Marriage, Set Back in One State, Gains in a 2nd", Katie Zezima writes about the setbacks same-sex marriage has recently faced in New Hampshire and Vermont. The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted on March 26th to legalize same-sex marriage. However, it is hard to view the bill’s passing as a gain because it is likely that Governor John Lynch will veto the bill. Vermont is facing a similar situation. The Vermont Senate approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage by a large margin, yet Governor Jim Douglas announced he would veto any same-sex marriage bills that reached his desk.
The fight to legalize same-sex marriages has many comparisons with African-Americans’ fight for civil rights in the 1960s. Zezima quotes Rep. Edward A. Butler, who invokes language reminiscent of the infamous court case Plessy v. Ferguson while discussing same-sex marriage. He says that “separate but equal is not equal”, the conclusion drawn by the Supreme Court when it overturned segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education. Due to the similarities between discrimination against African-Americans and discrimination against homosexuals, it may be of use to examine how African-Americans finally gained their civil rights. While they did exercise a long and difficult campaign against Southern whites, I think their ability to realize equality under the law was partly due to a change in thinking. It became impossible to justify discriminating against African-Americans as scientific studies continually proved the genetic and intellectual equality of African-Americans.
This comparison provides a grim picture for me for the future of same-sex marriage. Is genetic proof of lesbian and gay’s equality required in order for them to be granted the same privileges as non-gays? Even then, would ideas of what constitutes religious morality sit too strongly with the American people for us to grant this group their rights? I think what we can draw from the Civil Rights movement is that people’s personal opinions, in this case severe racism, should not come into play while shaping law. We can apply this same mode of thinking to same-sex marriages, in that people’s personal beliefs should be considered separately from what is just according to the Constitution.

7 comments:

Melissa F. said...

I agree that lawmaking on every subject should be free from personal opinion. The quote from Rep. Edward A. Butler saying "separate but equal is not equal" simply sums up the constant struggle that groups like African Americans and same-sex couples have experienced and continue to experience today. There is no justification for the governors of New Hampshire and Vermont to continue vetoing a bill that is so clearly supported by the senate and by most of Americans. It is amazing to consider how little we, as a country, learned from the Civil Rights era. One would think that having learned about or experienced first-hand the inhumanity that accompanies discrimination would have influenced all Americans to respect all groups equally.

AndiMS said...

How can you say that there is "no justification" for these governors to veto the bills? If they were elected by the citizens of their respective states by running on this platform, then the people knew what they were promoting by electing him. Although it appears that most people in Vermont and New Hampshire support same-sex marriage, I'm sure there were people who elected the governors BECAUSE they were against it. I think it's more important for these officials to stay true to what they were preaching before they were elected than for them to conform to the majority. If the governors were elected fairly and were open and honest about their beliefs, we shouldn't expect them to change; America is a democracy where people are entitled to different opinions.

David D said...

The governors were legally justified to make such a call. But it was also legal to sanction “Plessy vs. Ferguson.” The institution of slavery was also legally justified. While it is true that elected officials have the power to veto such a bill, this does not make their actions humane. Along with "Plessy vs. Ferguson," I think such an action violates what the Constitution defines as just. As Melissa noted, this is another example of a “separate of equal” doctrine in which a particular group suffers persecution under the law.

Andrew F. said...

I'm not sure it's fair to say the bill is "clearly supported... by most Americans." As we saw with Proposition 8 last year, there's plenty of populist outcry against same-sex marriages. Of course, whether governors should bow to that outcry is another question altogether.
Back in high school, the issue gay marriage often arose during Speech and Debate's "Student Congress." At one session, I saw a rather interesting solution proposed, and I'm curious for your take on it. The proposed bill would've isolated the ceremony of "marriage" to the jurisdiction of churches, while replacing the current tax benefits associated with marriage with "civil unions" available to all couples. Couples of any sexuality would be able to apply for civil union and the associated benefits; meanwhile, it would be up to the couple's church to decide whether or not to recognize them as "married." As far as I can tell, this proposal ought to appease everybody. All couples would be treated the same under the law, while each individual religious sect would be allowed to enforce "the sanctity of marriage" as they saw fit in their own congregations. What do you all think?

Molly G. said...

To me, the proposal seems logical, Andrew. In fact, I'm surprised that this hasn't been brought before Congress. I would certainly support such a bill. That way, the government would not be discriminating against any group; the fact that homosexual couples did not receive the same benefits as married couples was certainly the greatest point of contention on the issue (at least, the greatest one that could be solved with a law). I think most religious communities would accept such a bill as well. I don't think that making gay marriage legal would really solve the problem, since some religions don't believe that it is appropriate and could refuse to perform the marriages-- just because it's legal doesn't mean that it would be done. But if civil unions were accorded all the benefits of heterosexual marriage, it would be a great example of America's commitment to both equality and religious freedom.

Hannah P. said...

Andrew's proposal is an interesting one, and one that I have heard before because I did Speech and Debate too. However, I don't know if this proposal would solve the problem. Clearly, a large part of the gay marriage issue is the idea of marriage itself, and Andrew's proposal would eliminate that problem. However, another aspect of the gay rights debate is whether homosexuality itself is a legitimate sexual orientation, and whether it should be respected as such. Giving homosexual couples tax breaks and other advantages that currently come with marriage would legitimize their relationship in a way that would make many people uncomfortable, even without the marriage label. Until homosexuality is proven to have an undeniable biological and genetic basis, like race, I don’t think it can or will be accepted by a lot of Christians. Simply separating the categories into civil unions and marriage won’t be enough.

Katie said...

I understand your point AndiMS, that governors should not sign a bill into law for the sole reason that the legislature supports the passage of the bill. Governors should be able to act independently of pressures from other branches of the government and make their own judgments regarding if a bill should be passed. However, I think a Governor’s role in this political process changes when we are dealing with the rights of a fairly large group of American citizens. In New Hampshire and Vermont, these governors have the ultimate say in whether homosexuals should be granted equal rights, and they are deciding only on their own personal religious opinions about what is right and wrong. One person should not be able to decide if a certain group “deserves” the rights enjoyed by the rest of society.