Opinion » Guest Commentary
Same-sex marriage has all but dominated the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights conversation in recent years. In early 2004, civil unions were a way of life in Vermont, marriage licenses were briefly granted to same-sex couples in San Francisco, court-mandated marriage equality in Massachusetts was looming and the mayor of New Paltz, N.Y., presided over a mass same-sex wedding ceremony.
Local couples began applying for licenses and raising funds to support what would become the largest of the New York state marriage equality lawsuits. And, in case the decision would eventually rest in the hands of elected officials, another group of Ithacans organized an LGBT Democratic Club to advocate for LGBT-inclusive politics and fair-minded candidates.
On July 6, 2006, New York state’s highest court rejected the call for same-sex marriage. The majority argued that a redefinition of marriage was up to the legislature.
The momentum is set to pick up again. Just a few weeks ago, aides to Governor Eliot Spitzer promised the introduction of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage by the end of this year, making good on his campaign promise. The fate of this bill will depend on the reception it gets in the state Assembly and Senate.
As that debate begins, there will undoubtedly be a call for “Vermont-style Civil Unions” as a compromise that is more acceptable to elected officials and their constituents. This country has a history of half-measures that are palatable to a majority but that inflict lingering harm on minorities. Separate but equal, in this case civil unions, would not be truly equal. Giving a minority “equal rights” but being unwilling to call it by the same name implicitly relegates the minority to a second class. We should be content with nothing less than the same rights and the same name.
Marriage as a civil institution should not be defined by religious concepts or “tradition.” Nor should anyone be allowed to claim that the compelling public benefit is still encouraging a structure for the raising of children, especially since fertility tests have never been a prerequisite for tying the knot. As long as civil marriage is a form of currency that is given value by the society at large, then any two people who want to commit to each other deserve access. Same-sex couples at least deserve the same right as heterosexual couples to decide whether or not they want to participate.
Now is the time to lobby your elected officials. If you are a fair-minded ally, contact your representatives in the state legislature (in this or any state) and weigh in on this incredibly important topic. Thank our governor for his promises and make sure he knows you’re paying attention to whether or not he delivers. Visit the Web sites of the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign, and locally the LGBT Democratic Club of Tompkins County, and the Ithaca Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Task Force to see how you can get involved in a more concrete way. Join the mailing lists of those organizations. Write a letter to the editor and encourage your friends to do the same.
This will soon be a matter of public will, and silence equals status quo.
Shane Seger writes for and maintains the blog happilystuckinithaca.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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