Knop-Narbutis: The truth about gay marriage

Amy Knop-Narbutis

Nearly three-fourths of Americans support equal rights for homosexuals, yet nearly three-fourths also oppose legalizing gay marriage. Where does this discrepancy come from? It may stem from several basic misconceptions about gay marriages that are pervasive in today’s society.

The most common criticism people have about gay marriage is that it is a “threat to the institution of marriage” and its legalization will somehow make marriage less meaningful. Logically, allowing more people to legally marry hardly threatens the institution of marriage. Disrespect for marriage is already rampant in America, a country with a 50 percent divorce rate, with “role models” like Britney Spears who engage in three-day marriages just for fun. Permitting gays to marry may actually reduce the divorce rate by reducing the number of homosexuals who end up in unhappy, heterosexual marriages. Protecting “the institution” is a better argument for tightening divorce laws than for denying gay marriage.

Religion is another common source of opposition to gay marriage. Many people argue that gay marriage is invalid because the Bible defines marriage as a God-ordained covenantal union between one man and one woman. But many others understand that homosexuality deserves respect. For instance, the Catholic Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family has released a statement supporting unique sexual identities: “Every person has an inherent dignity because he or she was created in God’s image. A deep respect for the total person leads the church to hold and teach that sexuality is a gift of God. Being created a male or a female person is an essential part of the divine plan, for it is their sexuality – a mysterious blend of spirit and body – that allows human beings to share in God’s own creative love and life. Everyone should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.”

Also, according to theologian Vaughn Roste, the Bible never actually portrays marriage as a holy relationship between one man and one woman; instead, it makes frequent references to polygamy, and other outdated practices. The Bible also espouses outdated principles such as the prohibition of interfaith marriages and the perception of women as property. These principles are generally abandoned in today’s society; therefore, it would be logical to also abandon the Biblical view marriage as a solely heterosexual relationship in contemporary society.

Religious protesters also object to allowing the court system to legalize gay marriage, arguing that it not a judicial right to interfere with the will of the people. But courts do have the right to overrule the will of the majority if necessary. Allowing certain groups to have civil rights will always offend groups that are opposed to or prejudiced against them. One of the reasons why our government exists is to protect the rights of powerless and often unpopular minorities.

Perhaps the most shocking misconception people have about gay marriage is that legally banning gay marriage based on religious objections would be constitutional. Such a law would be in direct violation of the First Amendment: freedom of religion. To ban gay marriage is to deny the freedom of religion to a fellow citizen. While some denominations do not support homosexuality (such as many mainstream Christian denominations, many branches of Islam and Orthodox Judaism), there also many denominations that do. Some denominations of Christianity and many sects of Buddhism, for example, celebrate gay relationships freely and want the authority to make them legal marriages. One denomination cannot dictate law for the rest of the country.

Many misinformed critics claim that gays are asking for “special rights” by requesting the legalization of marriage. But gays lack many civil rights that heterosexual couples already possess. Without a legal marriage license, gays cannot make medical decisions for their partners in an emergency, cannot get hospital visitation rights, lack taxation rights, lack inheritance priority over other family members and can be compelled to testify against their partner in court. As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy explained, after overturning Colorado’s Amendment 2 referendum, an Amendment banning gay marriage would not simply be depriving gays of “special rights.” It states, “To the contrary, the amendment imposes a special disability on those persons alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint.”

Is there a compromise? Some people feel that the legalization of civil unions, which would provide most of the same civil benefits as marriage under a distinct name, would be the least inoffensive solution. Although not immediately apparent, civil unions would be just as unconstitutional as an anti-gay marriage Amendment. Civil unions are “separate but equal” institutions, designed to permit a few civil liberties without offending the masses, making them eerily similar to the “separate but equal” facilities designed for African-Americans in the mid-1900s. “Separate but equal” institutions have been unconstitutional for over 50 years, ever since the 1954 ruling of the Brown v. the Board of Education case.

Many open-minded countries around the globe have already legalized gay marriage, such as Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and even more have legalized civil unions. Denmark, which legalized gay marriage in 1989, has had overwhelmingly positive results. When the law was initiated in 1989, 72 percent of Danish clergymen opposed it. A mere 16 years later, over 89 percent of the clergy admitted that the law was actually beneficial: it reduced the rate of suicide, decreased the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and lessened promiscuity and infidelity among gays. To argue that legalizing gay marriages will lead to legalized incest, bestial marriages and rampant polygamy is clearly a scare tactic. Such consequences have not occurred in countries that have already legalized gay marriage. This argument uses a fallacious “slippery slope” scenario to depict an outcome so horrible that it convinces people that the first step should never be taken.

The right to legally marry in the United States is a liberty gays have been deprived of for far too long. How can we, as Americans, continue to fight for the ideals of liberty and democracy in other countries when we fail to provide it for our own citizens?