The State of Gay Marriage

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Even though the battle is ongoing in California, there are other states that are affirming their conviction that gays have the right to marry. In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, on the ground that denying gays the right to marry was unconstitutional. In October of last year, Vermont’s supreme court struck down a statute that limited marriage to heterosexuals. On April 3rd, Iowa’s supreme court ruled that laws limiting marriage to heterosexuals violated the rights of gays to equal protection. On April 7th, the District of Columbia council voted provisionally (until the official vote on May 5th) to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. Also on April 7th, Vermont’s legislature voted to override its governor’s veto of a law allowing gay marriage.

This is perhaps a poor showing out of 50 states, but it does indicate a slow but sure change in public opinion. I believe that more states will recognize the validity of gay marriages that were conducted in other states. Then it’s only a short jump to allowing gay marriage in their own states. I know that many people think that is unthinkable, but the tides are turning. Just a few short years ago, lesbians automatically lost custody of their children, gays were routinely fired from “sensitive” jobs because of their sexual orientation, few people had even heard of the term “transgender” and the military wouldn’t tolerate even a “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy of dealing with gays in the armed services. We’ve seen gay characters in television and movies who are not depicted as perverts or freaks. Several celebrities are open about their homosexual orientation and it hasn’t seemed to hurt their careers. (Think Ellen Degeneres–she has her own highly-rated talk show.) And would Harvey Milk have ever dreamed that a movie would be made of his life not only depicting him positively, but earning the actor who portrayed him an Oscar?

I don’t mean to give the impression that gays have it made. They don’t. Hundreds of thousands of them don’t trust the world enough to be open about their orientation. Lesbians do still lose custody of their children in a divorce between a man and a woman. Transgenders are misunderstood at best and reviled–and even murdered–at worst. Few gays have the right to be on their partners’ health insurance policies or even to visit them or make decisions about their care when their partners are in the hospital. And of course most gays do not have the right to live in a  state of matrimony.

I don’t understand the attitude that the very institution of marriage is threatened by gays wanting it for themselves. It’s actually a reinforcement of the concept that marriage is a unique and (hopefully) durable union. It promotes stability among gays just as much as it does among straights. It protects the married couple from the vicissitudes of daily life and the capriciousness of the legal system. But most of all it is a form of flattery: if gays see marriage as a valuable institution, they are more likely to protect it no matter who participates in it. Heterosexuals would do well to do the same.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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