Same-Sex MarriageAuthor of this text: Bernard Katz
Bush has made this plea for marriage: „After more than two centuries of
American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local
authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of
civilization." To maintain this institution, the President is calling for
an amendment to the Constitution, defining that marriage is a relationship
between one male and one female only.
Why this urgency?
The reasons why the homosexual community wants
civil marriages and not civil
unions are many. Civil unions would bestow only about 350 of the state benefits
that now accrue to marriage, in contrast to marriage that conveys about
1,000 federal benefits that many consider essential for financial security. Here
are a few of the important differences:
in federally recognized marriages are guaranteed the right to live out their
last days together in the same nursing home room. Partners in civil union are
couples are married no matter what state they're in. Partners in civil unions
· A widow is entitled to an array of state financial protections when a spouse dies.
The survivor of a civil union is not.
couples can share ownership of their worldly goods-homes, cars, salaries-without paying a cent in taxes. Couples in a civil union
cannot, leaving them vulnerable if the partner with the name on the deed
"My husband [a gay male] and I are treated as financial strangers,
yet we live our lives as an economic unit," says Robert DeBenedictis, 41, who lives
in Cambridge with his partner and two children. The men exchanged wedding
vows in 1997, though the union held no legal weight.
For gay couples, the idea of civil unions, once a radical thought in
its Puritan background!-now seems meager in comparison to the rights the high
court said they should receive. Does religion play a role in the President's
decision, and those who agree with him, enough to urge a Constitutional
amendment for monogamous marriage?
You might think it does, because in the West, Christian Churches have declared
marriage a sacrament for so long that we forget that this was not always so. In
fact, the Church did not get into the matrimonial act until the ninth century!
Until then, „marriage" was often simple, without benefit of clergy or
In our country, civil marriage without any church's blessing, had been
made compulsory by the Puritans as late as 1653 (so much for the President's
reference to „millennia of human experience"). In England, all that
was needed in order to marry was a simple declaration and the clasping of hands
(called „handfasting"). Marriage was permissible at any hour,
anywhere, without church banns or license, at any time. „Handfasting"
was an old pagan ritual of marriage in the British Isles. It remained legal
in Scotland all the way up to 1939, even after the Hardwicke Act of 1753
declared marriages in England valid only when performed by a clergyman. The Act
was regarded as an intolerable imposition.
In fact, during the Middle Ages polygamy was not uncommon-for many
heroes were portrayed as having two or more wives. Polygamy was not definitely
forbidden among European Jews until 1000 CE by Rabbi Gershom, and then at first
only in France and Germany. Marriage, even more so than in the days of chivalry,
was a temporary affair, with trial marriages lasting up to one year, and
frequent change of partners was usual quite
late in the Middle Ages. (This fact makes Henry VIII's marital experiments
more easily understandable. This also allows us to understand why most
Frankish kings died before they were thirty-they were prematurely worn out!)
The homosexual community has its own arguments. Whether you call it
or not, they say, it is not up to the church or synagogue or mosque. No man
running for president would say he thinks that the rights of blacks, or Jews, or
atheists to marry should be decided by an individual state. He'd be accused of
being a racist or anti-Semite, wouldn't he?
Moreover, they hold, marriage has little to do with religion. While they
often intersect, they are not dependent in
any way. (Refer to the above commentary.) Men and
women of no particular faith or god can and do join in marriage. A couple can be
joined just as easily and legally by a Carnival
cruise ship captain as it can by a priest. And how about
common law marriages? Since marriage is not governed by any religious authority
when it comes to "straights," why shouldn't it be the same for gays?
Heterosexuals like the President claim that they are protecting the sanctity of
marriage. If this is so, why are there so many divorces? The high divorce rate
shows that straights are as committed to marriage as a 9-year-old kid is to
practicing the piano! Gays a threat to marriage? Hell, say the gays, the
straights are doing a fine job running that institution into the ground all by
As they say, anyone who claims to be on their side needs to support gay
marriage, not a union but a marriage.
Remember what the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United
Separation of Church and State, said? "I
do not want to see the legacy of Thomas Jefferson
and James Madison revised by President Bush under pressure from Pat Robertson
and Jerry Falwell."
Published in the 2004 May/June issue of the American
« Society (Published: 10-05-2004 )
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