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Monday, October 2, 2017

On the Freedom to Marry - Part X

I am not saying that granting same-sex couples the right to be married would resolve all the social stigmas that are attached to homosexuality in an instant, but it would address those stigmas and set them on their way toward resolution and healing.

The fact that my European-American mother was able to marry my African-American stepfather did not resolve the issues of bigotry and racism that lingered around my family, but had they not been able to be legally wed, that older generation of my family, which was resentful of their union, would have felt comfortable stewing in their fear that much more.

Granting legitimacy to same-sex couples, through the institution of marriage will carry them on their way toward healing as well, like the sutures that close an open wound and knit common flesh together, telling gay Americans that they are honored, valued and loved will go a long way toward ending a large array of discrimination that these citizens face.

Marriage is essentially a contract between two people.[1] The act of denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry is only one dimension of this bigotry, the harm that it does to their children and families is another dimension, but there are more. Codifying this classist structure in law, as D.O.M.A. did, had the effect of preventing hundreds of thousands of adult women and men from making the most formal and solemn commitment to one another.

That law was passed in order “to define and protect the institution of marriage.”[2]
I argue that this D.O.M.A. harmed the institution of marriage and our society, it has not helped either. Not only did that law codify a narrow definition of marriage that privileges (only) heterosexuals by defining marriage as meaning “…a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ [as] refer[ing] only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’’[3] The harm it dis through this narrow definition was substantial, because it limited the number of people who were willing to participate in the institution, to support it and promote it as a good, but who could not, because their relationship did not meet the statutory criteria.

The harm D.O.M.A. did to individual people is one thing, but it also harmed the United States Constitution. The passage of this law restricted the power of Article 1, Section 10 without having gone through the process of a constitutional amendment.

The Defense of Marriage Act states: 

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.[4]

More than simply preventing same-sex couples from having the benefits, the legal privileges, rights of inheritance and tax benefits that heterosexual couples can enjoy (or abuse) without anyone standing in their way; this unconstitutional denial of rights, this classism, if it were to return, would rob American girls, it steal from American boys a future in which they can look forward to having their relationships with whatever partner they choose, acknowledged, valued and accepted by their contemporaries.

It would take from them the hope of being able to celebrate their love for their future husband, or future wife in the same way that every other American is able to do.

It would inform them, wrongly, that they are less American, less human, less deserving of the good stuff in life.

It would tell these girls and boys, who, though gay, are still American, but who, as members of a persecuted minority, that because they are different from ninety percent of their peers, that they are less deserving, and less good.

These are the messages we used to send, and we cannot return to a place where we are sending these messages again.

[1] Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution prohibits any state from impairing contracts that are entered into in other states, it requires each state to honor the terms of a contract that are made in any other state.