I am constantly amazed during the discussions and arguments against marriage equality that the “meaning” of the word “marriage” always seems to be the catalyst for continued discrimination against the LGBT community in the US. The idea that important rights and privileges that come from a civil license issued by a civil government gets pushed aside by the proponents of LGBT discrimination. That somehow the legal rights of hospital visitation, inheritance, etc, are not at the heart of what LGBT families want out of all of this.
As the debate for marriage equality begins in the Maryland House of Delegates this week, several delegates have been assailed by constituents on behalf of religious beliefs with the always constant screed of “marriage has always been between a man and a woman – the Bible says so.”
Keisha Huggins of Maryland said gay people worship at First Baptist but said her pastor, John K. Jenkins Sr., has made it clear to his congregation that same-sex marriage does not line up with Bible scripture.
“As a Christian we have love for everyone, but we’re following the word of the Lord that a man and woman should be together,” Huggins said.
I have nothing against the Bible. There are some great ideas are in there. But tradition is never a solid justification for discrimination. And in this country, we have freedom of religion. You do not have to be christian, muslim or jewish if you don’t want to be. You can be an atheist or agnostic and still be a law abiding American. Marriage – technically speaking – is a civil contract based on a civil license from the government. Not a church. Churches do not issue marriage licenses. Nor do they create or enforce tax benefits or hospital visitation rights.
There is a curious ongoing idea that, somehow, same-sex marriage rights are NOT a civil rights issue. This particular argument often comes from the African-American community, as if the phrase “civil rights” can only be used in terms of the fight for equality in their community. But “civil rights” applies to any group who is looking to have the same rights as everyone – whether that group is made up of women, latinos, blacks, or the LGBT community. Civil rights are about equality for all. Not just one community. It’s not as though gays & lesbians are co-opting something and thereby demeaning it’s language in reference to anyone else.
Juan McCoy, who lives with his partner, Chris Williams, and their five children in Maryland, said it is frustrating to listen to politicians whose rights are not being affected like his are. His senator, C. Anthony Muse, voted against the bill in the state senate. “It’s a throwback, and that’s what’s disappointing to me about many of the delegates in the House that continue to accept this type of discrimination. To put obstacles in the way of other groups to me is just baffling.”
Maryland House Majority leader Kumar Barve said “It’s going to be close but I think that a majority of the House feels that this is a civil rights issue and it’s a matter of giving the same rights and privileges and responsibility to loving, same sex couples that married people like me have,” Barve said.
Yet, there are some, even within Barve’s party, who disagree.
“I will argue for the position that civil rights were not the same, our civil rights, the movement was not the same,” Democratic delegate Emmett Burns, Jr., who is African-American, told Reuters. “Those who juxtapose the two are gravely mistaken.”
Opposition from the far right likes to say that same-sex marriage is a cause of the disintegration of heterosexual marriage – as if the opportunity for two men to get married would somehow lure straight men from their heterosexual marriages. I’ve personally never met a truly straight man who decided “hey, I can get gay-married now. Screw this straight stuff – let’s go Bob!” It’s just not happening.
Colbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post wrote last week: “It’s still beyond me how gay marriage affects the already married or heterosexuals who want to get married.”
“I understand even less, if that’s possible, the concentration of conservative black pastors on gay marriage when the real and present danger is the decline of marriage among African Americans — an ominous trend that has nothing to do with the desire of two people of the same sex to marry. Gay, lesbian and transgender people and their desire to get married have nothing to do with the decline of marriage and family in the African American community.”
“What ails us comes from within and from societal conditions unrelated to same-sex marriage. If anyone should know that, it’s the black preacher.”
I continue to hope that in Maryland, and eventually across the nation, people will focus on the civil rights – yes, civil rights – component of this debate and not the finger-pointing, religious bias that keeps the discussion from the important issue at hand. And that’s equality for all.