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Same-sex marriage breakthroughs ahead, experts say
by Bob Roehr
Originally printed 05/08/2008 (Issue 1619 - Between The Lines News)
The events of the next few months "can truly transform the arc of our movement" for marriage equality, civil rights attorney and LGBT advocate Evan Wolfson told a symposium of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 3. "With a little luck and some real hard work, the next year is going to put us in a very different place."
He said the question of "whether couples who have made the commitment in life should continue to be denied the commitment in law that is called marriage" is likely to be answered by the California Supreme Court in a matter of weeks, and in Connecticut within months.
Wolfson placed the California deliberation within the context of the 60th anniversary of the Perez decision when that court, by a 4-3 vote, became the first in America to strike down race restrictions on marriage.
"Human beings are not interchangeable like trains; it is not as if denied the right to marry the person you love, you can catch the next one," Wolfson said in reviewing the language of the Perez decision. "People are precious to us. The person you chose to build your life with is irreplaceable to you. Human beings don't fall in love with categories, with races, with sexes - we fall in love with a person, and that person is precious to us."
According to Wolfson, the proper questions for the courts and our fellow citizens are, "What business does the government have placing obstacles in the path of people seeking to care for one another? Why should the government dictate who is the right kind of person for you to marry when this is the person you love?"
"The essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one's choice," the California court concluded in the Perez case.
Wolfson noted that when the Perez decision came down in 1948, a survey found 90 percent of Americans opposed to interracial marriage. When the US.. Supreme Court struck down all remaining state laws banning interracial marriage in 1967, in the aptly named Loving vs. Virginia, 70 percent of Americans still opposed the practice.
"We are doing much better" on marriage equality for gays and lesbians in the court of public opinion where opposition has declined to roughly 50 percent, he said. And in some states there is majority support for that equality.
"It is happening because we are giving the American people the information they need, over time, to embrace fairness and move in the right direction. It is happening because we didn't assume it couldn't happen, and we didn't write people off."
Wolfson said the non-gay movable middle of the American public generally is waiting for us to bring up the subject. And too often we fail to do that with our family, friends and coworkers. "In this chicken and egg of silence, we are failing to give our non-gay circles what they need and deserve to rise to the better angels of their nature," he said. "We must break that silence and we must do it now."
"The most important way to helping people get there (to supporting marriage equality) is by making it real... . Information over time is the recipe for social change."
Social conservatives have submitted a ballot initiative to amend the California Constitution to prohibit gays from marrying and it appears likely to be on the November ballot. Wolfson said the community must raise a minimum of $10 million to wage a public education campaign against the amendment.
"If we lose that fight, our movement will continue to move forward, but we will vastly prolong the timeline," he said. "If we win that battle in California, we will be on a glide path to full victory."
Why marriage matters
"Marriage, in many respects, is a critical point of entry for full citizenship in American society. Aside from all of the tangible benefits, from a sociological point of view, full adulthood in many societies is synonymous with being married," said San Fransisco doctor Robert Kertzner, M.D. "If you are unable to enter into the civil institution of marriage, you really aren't considered to be a full adult."
The University of California researcher was co-author of "I do, but I can't," a groundbreaking 2006 review of the literature on gay and lesbian relationships, discrimination and the institution of marriage.
It found that in addition to the 1,300 benefits and obligations conferred by marriage, it also is associated with "better psychological health." That is particularly important during times of stress and hardship.
Kertzner said there is no evidence that children raised by lesbians and gays differ in any significant way from those raised by heterosexual couples. But there are negative effects upon the children from their parents not being able to marry.
He acknowledged that not all gays and lesbians want to get married, nor is it necessarily appropriate for all of them. However, a 2001 survey by the Kaiser Family foundation found that about 75 percent of lesbians and gays would chose the option of marriage if it were available.
Kertzner was struck by the fact that more than 700 gay men 29 or younger had married in Massachusetts during the first three years that they were allowed to do so. "It speaks to the fact that just having the ability to do that is extremely important because it broadens the range of imaginable lives for the young men... . They want to have a family life sooner rather than later."
"When most people think about what marriage means to them, they don't start with a list of legal protections, they start with love, commitment, companionship, sacrifice, being there for someone," added Wolfson. "We need to engage people on this question and help them unearth their own perhaps unresolved conflict" about whether gays feel the same way as heterosexuals do when they make a commitment to their partner.
"The Vermont Supreme Court in the marriage case there had a very powerful phrase; it was 'common humanity,'" he continued. "That is what I think we have to evoke from people; that human beings in general aspire to love, to commitment, to partnership, to family, and that is what we are aspiring to as well."
"Marriage is the vocabulary in which those things are expressed in our society and we claim that vocabulary."