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A call for equality

Teresa Fralish | Friday, November 21, 2003

On Nov. 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage, and homosexuals across the nation rejoiced. Gay columnist Andrew Sullivan triumphantly declared, “Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”Specifically, the Massachusetts Court found the state’s current marriage statute inconsistent with the Massachusetts Constitution and has required the state legislature to remedy the situation within 180 days. The legislature has two options: either to enact a changed marriage statute consistent with the Court’s ruling, or to amend the Massachusetts Constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage.While gay-rights supporters have hailed this decision as a victory, it has nevertheless come under fire by several Christian-conservative groups and prominent Republicans. The Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has called for the state legislature to draft an amendment to the state constitution to exclude same-sex marriage, and President George W. Bush declared firmly that “Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman‚” and vowed to work to protect the “sanctity of marriage.”As a gay Christian Republican, I freely admit that I am at this time conflicted in my loyalties. The party of Lincoln and the emancipation of the slaves has morphed into a party that too often resists change merely for the sake of protecting the status quo. But alas, I am not a one-issue voter and will not let my disagreement with Republicans on gay rights dominate my political judgment.Cultural attitudes towards homosexuality are undergoing significant change, as society’s understanding of it increases. Where most people used to think of homosexuality as a choice, hence the term sexual preference, many now think of it as a natural identity, or sexual orientation. This is no accident. Any homosexual will confidently proclaim that it is not a choice, and several scientific studies all point towards homosexuality as a genetic disposition.Once the understanding of homosexuality that has forever been in the hearts and minds of homosexuals enters the public consciousness, society’s laws will begin to recognize homosexuals as a class of individuals with a common physical trait, and thus subject to equal protection under the decree of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.In Lawrence v. Texas, a recent Supreme Court decision striking bans on sodomy, and in subsequent cases, our nation’s highest court has indeed recognized homosexuals as a group deserving of protection. This realization, taken to its natural conclusions, will inevitably end governmental discrimination against homosexuals, in the same manner that governmental discrimination based on race and sex has also been Constitutionally prohibited. The rights entitled by marriage, whether referred to as marriage or as a civil union, must extend to all.Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that the sanctity of the institution is endangered by removing the requirement that marriage involve a man and a woman. Yet, they offer no convincing evidence that such will actually be the case; only the most bigoted individual would argue that homosexuals are incapable of the love, respect, loyalty, honesty and other qualities necessary for a successful and fulfilling marriage.Therefore, they fall back on tradition and religious arguments. Tradition alone is never sufficient reason to resist change. If it were, then blacks would not be free today and women would not be allowed to vote. In regard to religious arguments, nobody is wishing the government to force any religion to accept a different definition of marriage. Rather, they want the government to confer the solely civil rights of the civic institution of marriage equally upon all. Asking the government to define a civic institution based on religious grounds would be an unconstitutional breech of the First Amendment Establishment Clause, and therefore is an improper request.In Lawrence, Justice Antonin Scalia said this nation is becoming entangled in a “culture war,” and in a sense he was right. We have the choice today between tolerance and equal treatment and bigotry and discrimination. Ultimately, the challenge facing society is the same challenge that faces each one of us in our hearts and souls, and is best captured in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.”