Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2009: Two states support gay marriage in two weeks

Why do I care about this?

I'm not gay. I've been a married heterosexual for over 37 years, and I view marriage as a fundamental civil right, just like voting, education, safe construction, adequate food, clean air and water, free speech and health care. And even living together without being married.

I see no reason why anyone should be denied the privileges, joy and misery of marriage because of the contents of a partner's pants.

If people of the same sex, or different races, or even different species get married, it doesn't nullify my marriage. If my dog wants to marry a horse or a pencil sharpener, it's fine with me. I hope they'll be happy.

I have a six-year-old grand niece who has been to more weddings with two brides than with a bride and a groom. I think that's progress, not an aberration or an abomination.

I frequently get email from outraged conservative "pro-family" organizations that want my support to fight gay marriages.

I always respond with the same question. I ask how a gay marriage could hurt my marriage. I've never gotten an answer. Not even once.

That's because there is no answer.

On April 3 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that denying people the right to marry people of the same sex violated the Iowa state constitution.

On April 7 the Vermont legislature overrode the governor's veto of a law giving same-sex couples the right to marry. This was about 10 years after Vermont was the first American state to allow "civil unions," with marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

Vermont and Iowa have now joined Massachusetts and Connecticut in providing full marriage equality to same-sex couples.

The movement is growing, on the coasts and in the heartland of America, despite the recent reversal of the short-lived same-sex marriage permission in California.

The Washington DC City Council has voted to recognize valid same-sex marriages from other areas even though same-sex couples cannot get married in the nation's capital.

It's strange that following Proposition 8 in California, one of the most liberal states, we'd see such a dramatic change in presumably conservative middle America.

The Iowa court found that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the principle of equality in the state constitution. As did the Supreme Courts of California and Connecticut in the process of reaching their conclusion, the Iowa court held that laws that make use of sexual-orientation classifications warrant heightened judicial scrutiny. This means other laws in Iowa that make use of sexual-orientation classifications will be treated like laws that make use of sex classifications. When courts demand a very strong justification for laws that involve sexual-orientation classifications, they almost always find inadequate the proposed justification for laws that treat people differently in virtues of their sexual orientations.

Further, with great clarity, the Iowa court rejected the two leading arguments made by opponents of same-sex marriage: (1) gay people are less good parents than heterosexuals and (2) prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying strengthens the incentives for different-sex couples to marry, thereby creating greater stability for the children of different-sex couples. These two arguments have been embraced by courts in New York, Maryland, Washington, Indiana, and Arizona, but the Iowa court, like California and Connecticut courts, firmly rejected such arguments against same-sex marriage.

In Vermont, the path to marriage for same-sex couples was quite different than in Iowa. Vermont was a path-breaker with respect to the relationship recognition for same-sex couples. In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the state's constitution required that same-sex couples be able to obtain all the benefits that different-sex couples could obtain by marrying.

After struggling with the options, the Vermont legislature created a new type of relationship for same-sex couples called civil union that is identical to marriage in terms of its effects under state law. Although Vermont preserved marriage for different-sex couples, with the passage of its civil union law, Vermont became the first state in the country to provide equal recognition to same-sex relationships.

With the latest move, Vermont is the first state where same-sex couples can marry as the result of a legislative process rather than as the result of a court order. Other states have enacted civil union or domestic partnership laws without being required to do so by courts (for example, Connecticut and New Hampshire passed civil unions laws without a court saying that the state's constitution demanded it). And California's state legislature twice passed a law that would have legalized same-sex marriage, but the state's governor twice vetoed it. So once again, Vermont is a trailblazer for civil rights. (some info from FindLaw.com)

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