Why do you support discrimination against a group of Americans? This is just one of the questions that I ask myself when I encounter people opposed to gay marriage. Other questions that pop into my head include: What makes Americans who are gay less American than you? Why are they not entitled to the same protections under our system of laws that you are?
The issue of marriage equality to me is not a nuanced legal issue. It’s not a moral issue. It’s simply a question of: Do you think all Americans should be treated equally?
I have long supported marriage equality simply because I oppose discrimination against any American, whether it’s based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or for other reason people on the right can think of to try and divide us. There is nothing more un-American and inconsistent with the values and ideals of this nation than discrimination.
Why should a couple in love be precluded from being married - and enjoying all the legal and emotional benefits that it provides-solely because of their sexual orientation? Opponents to marriage equality should be required to meet with gay couples and tell them to their face that they are not entitled to the same rights as other American couples. I want to hear them explain to the gay couple if one of them is sick in the hospital, why the other can't visit the person like any other spouse? Why should a gay couple not have the same rights when it comes to inheritance and tax laws?
I truly believe in the words famously set forth in our Declaration of Independence which provide: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” If we are all created equal, should we not all be treated equally? In fact, equal protection under the law is guaranteed to all Americans – even gay ones- by the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
Opposing gay marriage is no different than opposing the civil rights movement. Indeed, much of the language used by opponents to gay marriage sounds eerily similar to the language used by those who opposed interracial marriage. Opponents to interracial marriage typically cited religious reasons claiming God didn't want people of different races to mix because it was against the laws of nature. Sound familiar?
Up until the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision in “Loving vs. Virginia,” there were 16 States which still made it a crime for Blacks and Whites to marry. (The 16 States which banned interracial marriage at that time are also among the States which ban gay marriage- coincidence?)
The interracial couple in the Loving case had actually been sentenced to one year in jail for their “crime” of simply wanting to be married to each other. But the Supreme Court struck down those laws, linking the right to marry with civil rights and the basic liberties promised to all Americans by our Constitution: “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man…The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”
Many who oppose gay marriage - such as former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum - have cited religious scripture as the reason. But religious text can not be the basis for our civil laws. There must be a legitimate policy reason to enact a law which discriminates against Americans and, to date, none has been articulated. As Thomas Jefferson stated and numerous courts have quoted: "...the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state."
To those who support marriage equality, its time is near. President Obama’s statement on Wednesday that he now personally favors gay marriage is reminiscent of when President Lyndon Johnson stood up for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 during the civil rights struggle.
Recent public opinion polls indicate that approximately 50% of Americans support gay marriage and only 45% oppose it. These numbers are actually amazing when you contrast them with public opinion polls in the late 1960’s which found that only about 20% of Americans approved of interracial marriages. It wasn't until over 20 years later before a majority of Americans accepted interracial marriage -- now over 86% of Americans support it. Thus, indicating that the attitudes of Americans do evolve for the better given sufficient time and exposure.
But the increasing acceptance of gay marriage and President Obama’s statement alone will not end the struggle for marriage equality. It will take the US Supreme Court – just as in Loving vs. Virginia- to end this State sanctioned discrimination. This is the likely result since the Supreme Courts of Iowa and Connecticut as well as the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have already found laws barring gay marriage as unconstitutional discrimination.
And to those who favor discrimination against their fellow Americans, there is no doubt they will be looked at like those who opposed the civil rights movement. They will simply find themselves on the wrong side of history.