Legality of marriage transcends gender

Published: November 20, 2006 in the Anchorage Daily News.

In 1959 Richard and Mildred Loving were sentenced to one year in jail. Their crime: getting married across the state line in Washington, D.C.
Their home state of Virginia had laws against non-whites marrying whites, and they were enforced. The "majority" of Virginia residents must have seen nothing wrong with this, or they would have changed the laws.
In 1967, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional. This voided the laws still on the books in 16 states. The Supreme Court fulfilled its constitutional duty of protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority, thus protecting the rights of all. It seems absurd today that such laws existed at all, much less that people were convicted under them.

Now, we are faced with the issue of "gay" marriage, thanks to the Alaska Supreme Court rulings on state-provided employment benefits.
So, what is marriage?

Marriage has two components for most people.

First, the religious aspect of pledging love and fidelity before God. They usually promise to stay together and stay faithful to each other "till death do us part." Fifty percent of all marriages in this country end in divorce, husband and wife breaking their solemn oath to each other and their god. Countless others stay together even though vows are broken and adultery occurs.

The second component is the legal aspect, codified in law. This is a legal contract between two people with rights, benefits, duties and obligations defined by various government bodies.

In general, households are combined, expenses shared, and children are raised jointly (blended families becoming more common). Prenuptial agreements now take some of the fun out of discovering what the duties and benefits really are.

The straw man argument, frequently heard on talk radio, that gay marriage means someone could marry a duck is ludicrous. A duck is not an adult human being, a sentient being. It also does not mean children can marry, as they are not recognized as capable of entering legally binding contracts. We protect children; this issue has nothing to do with molesters or predators.

We need to differentiate between the two functions when we discuss marriage.

Any churches that deem homosexual marriage is against their teaching should be free to not perform such ceremonies. Religions have the right to operate under their own guidelines.

And, people get married by a justice of the peace all the time. In Alaska, any adult can perform a marriage ceremony, by obtaining a marriage commissioner appointment. They can make it as solemn and spiritual as they want.

For governments to deny people the right to enter binding contracts based on their gender cannot be legal, just as race restrictions were found to be unconstitutional 40 years ago. The rights granted to a spouse, based on a marriage contract, are specific and legal. The ability to enter into a marriage contract, a legal document, should not and cannot legally be limited to gender-specific roles.

A silly example: By law, a 19-year-old pregnant high school dropout by dint of a marriage license is equipped to handle the affairs of her comatose, deadbeat husband. But a 40-year-old lawyer in a committed, long-term relationship with a person of the same sex has no rights even of visitation to his or her partner in the hospital. This standing shames us all.

Gay marriage has no effect on my or anyone else's marriage. Your life is what you make of it; it is not determined by what others do with theirs. By granting all people the right to enter marriage contracts, we do not destroy the sanctity of anything.

There is nothing inherently religious about legal contracts. By mixing the two societal functions of marriage, this topic has gotten more emotional than it needs to be. It does not need to be, nor should it be, a religious argument; we are talking about legal contracts. If religion is brought into the discussion, then it ceases to be about the law and becomes about imposing religious values on people who do not agree with them.


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