Title: Becoming conversant with talking points needed in the Civil Marriage Equality struggle.
Have you been confronted by friends, family, colleagues or others seeking your position on the so-called marriage equality, or same-sex marriage issue? This paper offers excellent talking points and responses to those queries, and gives you confidence when addressing the issue in general. Herein, I offer the following outline of the issue and its myriad ramifications.
* Definitions: What is civil marriage equality?
* Getting involved
* Civil unions Vs Civil marriage
* Civil marriage & families
* Civil marriage & religion
* The power of cool listening
* Talking Points
* Definitions: What is Civil Marriage Equality?
You may find that when you mention civil marriage equality people won’t know what you mean. Whereas, if you say ‘gay marriage’, or same-sex marriage’ they immediately grasp the issue and its meaning, and often, at least if they’re already wary or lack understanding, will mentally shut down, or change the topic altogether. When we use the term civil marriage, we’re not evading the issue out of a sense of unease, or a lack of conviction. Quite the contrary, we use the term advisedly, because it’s what we mean.
Civil marriage is just that: a contract between a civil entity, in this case the state in which one resides, and two people who have met, fallen in love, and committed their lives to each other. Civil marriage equality recognizes the unique relationship we enjoy in this nation between religious congregations of all types, sizes and definitions, and the various governmental bodies that tend to the civil affairs of our society such as taxation, property issues, elective office, driving privileges, schools and what have you. And, yes, civil marriage. Indeed, marriage is the perfect venue in which to best illustrate this unique separate relationship between two powerful entities in our society–religion and government. Just as the state has no authority or power within the walls of a church, church groups have no authority or power in the halls of government. Unlike other countries, whose governmental entities rely on religious texts to rule their populace, we in America rely on our Constitution & civic institutions to do so, for the benefit of all.
Thus our use of the term civil marriage. In this insistence on that term there is protection for both parties, should that be necessary. Religious groups refer to marriage, or matrimony, or wedded bliss, and that is their right. We are not discussing equal access to those things; we are talking about only the state sanctioned status of civil marriage.
Just so, civil marriage equality is, in all but six states at this writing, currently being denied to our LGBT citizens–despite the legal & constitutional protections, and the long-standing adherence to the separation principle we have enjoyed in America.
This is why we’re cautious to use the term civil marriage. Various groups insist that the word marriage is unimportant, and that partnership, or civil union, or life-partner is acceptable. But as we’ll see in a later section, the term civil marriage is vitally important. Words have power; anything less than full civil marriage is a ‘separate but equal’ condition, therefore inherently different and unequal. Just as the terms are important, the issue must be discussed with full transparency. There is no ‘gay agenda’ so-called. The only thing LGBT people want is what heterosexual couples have taken for granted for a very long time. Thus, what needs to be discussed is the similar, not something different, or special. Not ‘gay marriage’, or same-sex marriage’, but civil marriage. Period. Heterosexual couples would not use the term straight marriage. Our LGBT friends should expect nothing less than the clarity of the term marriage, and all it holds.
* Getting involved: Why should we get involved, and how best to do this? There are a number of ways to propel the issue of civil marriage equality forward. The first and best way is to simply not avoid discussing it at every opportunity. This is not always appropriate, or possible, and there is a natural reluctance to talk about private, personal matters. Most people heterosexual or homosexual aren’t wary of discussing anyone else’s marriage, so the basic issue is filled with anxiety by itself. If it helps, bear in mind that one of the primary reasons homosexual access to civil marriage is such a delicate topic is because LGBT people have always, unfairly but consistently, been viewed and considered in light of little else than their sexual proclivities.
Heterosexuals openly discuss families, careers, weddings, recent dating experience, even sex among total strangers. If homosexuals do the same, they have an agenda. Hetero people talk about the most intimate parts of their lives, and demonstrate often highly provocative behavior in public. If homosexuals do that they’re ‘flaunting it’.
So a possible first step is to become aware of the latent discrimination that exists in our hetero-normative society, and go from there. To reiterate, if we feel uneasy discussing the issue with friends & family, or colleagues at work, the anxiety manifests in a stridency that is difficult to put aside. The best approach to take if the discussion becomes heated, or your talking points don’t seem to apply is to recognize that you may be speaking to someone who is not in the movable middle after all, and change the subject. Confrontation is counterproductive. But open, logical, reasonable discussion can be invaluable.
* Civil unions Vs civil marriage: “Would you settle for a civil union?” Asked in a calm, reasoned manner, this may be a good way to open any discussion of the all too common civil union Vs civil marriage question. The response most often is no, “but this is different”. “We’re talking about traditional marriage”, people say. “We don’t want to interfere with traditions like this.”
Without getting into a discussion of tradition here, I’ll add only this. There was a time not long ago in America when slaves were kept (justified by Biblical tenets, no less), a time when, by virtue of a legal tenet called ‘coverture’, women were not allowed to own property. Not too many years ago children began working in coal mines as young as twelve, girls were ‘married off’ as chattel to establish political connections, blacks rode in the backs of buses, women didn’t vote and, as recently as 1967, sixteen states still had on their law books enforceable legal proscriptions against blacks and whites marrying. These, and many more best forgotten travesties were ‘traditions’.
But back to the topic. Why not civil unions? Again, the separate but equal distinction serves us well. Any civil marriage equality advocate must know this: LGBT people don’t want a separate, distinct category or designation. No gay marriage, or same-gender marriage. No mother wants her son or daughter to announce their upcoming civil union. Mothers want their sons and daughters to get married.
But for the purposes of this paper, the real reason is in reference to the definition discussed above. What is civil marriage? At its core, civil marriage is a contract between the state and two of its residents. It is, just as it says, a civil–not a religious–marriage. As such, this contract entitles and demands certain rights, benefits, and legal protections. In fact, there have been over 1138 separate such rights and benefits identified that pertain to marital status in this country. Ask any reasonable person if those rights and protections should be denied to others, and they will say no.
Civil unions are an interim measure at best; they fail to provide the instant credibility that the rights–not the rites–of civil marriage provide. Civil unions can offer certain well defined rights such as health care access, estate planning clauses and the like. But each of those are dependent either on the jurisdiction in which they’re acquired, or actively by the two individuals through an (expensive) legal process. Plus, civil unions likely don’t cross state lines, so it’s entirely possible, probable even, for a civil unionized couple to drive from Massachusetts into New York and have their rights vanish as the state line crosses beneath their vehicle.
The fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains the following text. “…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Civil marriage being a contract between residents of a state, those individuals are entitled to equal protection regardless of any religious or other determination.
The recent ruling in Iowa* allowing the civil marriage of LGBT people is an interesting case. Iowa’s court ruled that the state had no interest in denying access to civil marriage to any of its residents. No interest, in other words, from keeping gays and lesbians from enjoying the full range of civil rights and responsibilities any other Iowan enjoyed. Iowa didn’t create a special category, or protect a certain segment of her population. Iowa said it had no interest in denying equal protection. A simple, elegant solution, one from America’s heartland. And one which gays and lesbians embraced.
*Varnum et al Vs Timothy J. O’Brien No. 07-1499 4/03/2009
Further. Article IV section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, is called the fair faith and credit clause. The Article states that laws promulgated in one state are recognized, by ‘fair faith and credit’ in all other states, unless those states have specific laws otherwise. In civil marriage we have a perfect test of this issue. At this writing, the State of Massachusetts has enjoined a lawsuit challenging other states’ disinclination to observe this clause. In short, Massachusetts is saying that the couple driving to New York must, according to the U.S. Constitution, observe and recognize the civil marriages of residents of the Bay State, and all 49 other states must as well.
The issue of civil unions Vs civil marriage comes down to this: civil unions are a back of the bus solution. The real answer is civil marriage equality nationwide.
* Civil marriage & families: According to the 2000 census, there are 601,200 same gender households in the United States. Fully 20% of those couples are raising children. That figure represents an increase of over 300% since the 1990 census. Both poll numbers are considered skewed, however. The census bureau acknowledges that even in the improved political climate many same-gender couples are likely to hide their status, so the actual figure is likely higher.
It should come as no surprise that a basic objection to civil marriage equality centers on families. But considering the numbers above, and that those couples referenced have clearly committed to creating stable, secure homes for themselves and their kids, thereby providing shelter, becoming role models for what society expects, and strengthening their communities, it’s clear that those households share the same ‘family values’ as those who object. It is no stretch to see that civil marriage equality has many benefits for children of LBGT couples. Two married people always have more financial stability, for one thing. They have more latitude in child care, educational opportunity, activities, dietary needs, and the range of issues that children present. As for the often heard claim that boys need a father figure, and girls need mother figures, that would seem intuitively true. The realistic response is that there are already more single-parent households in the U.S. than ever. According to the census bureau there were 12.9 million one-parent families in 2006 – 10.4 million single-mother families and 2.5 million single-father. There is no scientific evidence that children suffer ill effects from the absence of either parent unless their departure has left the remaining parent financially strapped.
Legal efforts, and some recent successes to restrict adoptions to heterosexual couples benefit no one. Quite the contrary, a couple unable to procreate on their own are the perfect resource for many adoptable children. The same pre-adoption screening and procedure would be required in any case, and, as mentioned above, it’s probable that many same-gender households are more financially stable than single-parented homes. Plus, there is no scientific evidence or study showing that kids do worse in same-gender households. Quite the contrary, over 300 studies, some by such prestigious organizations as the American Psychological Association saw no difference in childrens’ development regardless of their placement in hetero or other households. The practical reality is, that kids in single parent households may do worse, only because those homes, though stable and secure otherwise, may lack sufficient financial support. The bottom line is that, as one study proved, kids thrive on one thing: stability. Lacking stability, and the security it provides, children tend to suffer from various social and psychological ills. This is yet another reason that civil marriage equality is indeed a true family values issue. Our LGBT brothers and sisters should be encouraged to enter into civil marriages, to provide stability to their children.
* Civil marriage & religion: There are two premises we must accept before civil marriage equality can even be discussed in a meaningful way. Number one is that homosexuality is a condition of birth, like eye color, or left (or right) handedness; number two is that, regardless of how one feels about premise number one, civil marriage equality is just that, a civil, legal issue, not a religious one.
Only when those two facts are accepted can any meaningful discussion take place. But once those two realities are accepted, the understanding comes easily to reasonable people. Just as it would be outrageous for the state in any capacity to dictate what is preached, or believed inside a church, it’s equally unimaginable that churches ought to dictate the business of the state and its institutions.
When applying for a driver’s permit, for instance, we’re not expected, nor are we required, to bring along religious documents, the Bible, the Koran, passages from the Veda etc. All that’s required of an applicant for a driver’s permit is proof of age, driving school papers if needed, passage of a state-crafted written & vision test, and a bit of money. When applying for a zoning permit, or papers to run for public office, or tax forms, etc. etc. no religious tract is needed or expected. Now, some teenagers may pack a prayer book for the driving test if they believe it might help, but it’s not necessary. All these transactions are understood to be strictly legal, civil proceedings.
Just so, a civil marriage license is a document created by, printed by and delivered by the state–likely in the same office–as the other certificates. The requirements for the issuance of a civil marriage certificate, in most states, are relatively simple: the couple must be sane; not coerced into the marriage; of proper age according to the jurisdiction; and not currently married to someone who is still alive. Beyond that, as we saw in the Iowa ruling, the state should have no interest in restricting the right of civil marriage to anyone desiring to make that commitment. Indeed, the states that have thus far endorsed civil marriage equality have recognized that encouraging stable, committed marriage is in the interest of all society.
So we see that it is no stretch to understand civil marriage equality not only as a human rights issue, but as a family values issue. Instead of restricting marriage to our LGBT brothers & sisters, states should be encouraging them to marry & settle into long-term, stable, committed, safe and secure, child-friendly marriages. If ever there was a conservative friendly issue, this is it.
Further, it’s gratifying to see the appearance of so many so-called ‘affirming’ churches, or reconciling churches. In several denominations–UCC, Episcopal, MCC, UU, and many other Christian and other congregations, the LGBT community is being welcomed and encouraged. While it does seem a bit odd that any church should have to advertise inclusivity, it is good to see the outreach becoming more widespread.
And as more and more LGBT people and their families become more and more visible to the community at large the more acceptance will build on itself. When religious communities realize that the sun will still rise in the east, cows still give milk, and western civilization continues in its inexorable way.
But what about capital ‘T’ Tradition, the definition of marriage as we’ve always known it, and don’t see any reason to change? We’re fearful that same-gender marriage will truly undermine the institution of marriage. Period. Surely this is a concern rightly addressed and monitored by religious people?
Here are a few interesting facts about the ‘Tradition’ of marriage: The Catholic church didn’t recognize marriage until 1215, and I don’t mean clock time, but Anno Domini 1215. And yes, the Church got around to making it a sacrament at that time, primarily to bring order to the chaos of who was married to whom. And that was a dilemma only because of, you guessed it, property rights.
Here’s an interesting side note: until that same time, priests & bishops married and sired children right & left. The Church had to put a stop to that ‘tradition’, because children of those priests & bishops were inheriting property from their clerical parents, thus wresting it from the property books of the church. That’s why priests are celibate today, the vow of chastity notwithstanding.
Not too long ago the tradition of marriage included a codicil called ‘coverture’. Simply explained, coverture was a legal attachment to marriage stating that only men could own property in that union. In short, a married woman was ‘covered’ (the definition of coverture), by her husband. The two were seen by the law as one person, and that person was the husband. The ironic part of that little legal twist is that, according to the law at least, a single woman had more rights than her married counterpart. Under coverture, a married woman couldn’t own property in her name, keep a salary for herself, or obtain an education against her husband’s wishes.
Not too long ago marriages were little more than the best method of establishing alliances between neighboring–or often conflicting–landed families. If Romeo & Juliet had survived it’s likely they would have been at the forefront of the civil marriage equality struggle. Alas, they did not.
As recently as 1967 sixteen states in this country had anti-miscegenation laws. Not until the appropriately named Loving Vs Virginia case did they go away. Rendering black/white marriage illegal now would seem ludicrous.
As for Biblical tradition & the marriage issue, care must be taken. The old testament does in fact cite Abraham’s twelve wives. Solomon supposedly had 700. So much for one man one woman.
Continuing with Biblical precepts, it is Tradition, according to the Good Book, that daughters may be sold into slavery, shellfish, wearing garments of two types of fabric, planting two crops in the same field, working on the Sabbath and other issues are an abomination against God. Speaking of long-discarded traditions, in this country slavery was a traditional practice, justified by Biblical passages. It’s readily apparent that our religious friends must tread lightly if they wish to deny marital rights to LGBT people. It may be better for them to seek wisdom and counsel in the simple truth that civil marriage equality offers protection for them as well: religious organizations are free to practice their faiths behind the doors of their sanctuary, where the state dare not intrude; the state is free to do the peoples’ business in the courthouse, where churches dare not intrude. Speaking of capital ‘T’ Tradition, this wonderful system has served us very well for 233 years, and promises to continue.
* The power of cool listening: There are many people involved in the civil marriage equality issue, people of good faith and good credentials on both sides of the controversy. On this highly contentious issue it is possible even for people of good will to lose sight of the cool, moderating aura of reason. Civil marriage equality is an issue that has little middle ground, and issue about which people find a passion. In this age of general comfort and ease, an almost apathetic time except for the economic woes surrounding us, this is an exceptional thing. Not since the sixties has an item commanded so much of the public’s attention. Indeed, for this writer, the feeling is passing strange: in the seventies I was at the barricades marching for people’s right Not to marry.
Having gone through those times, for anyone reading this who was born before 1960 at least, a lot of the scripts and dialogues are eerily similar. It was all about civil rights, and paternalism, and the religious right, and the perfidy of the Republican party. We had our favorite magazines, our iconic authors, our keywords and phrases, and all the trappings of a revolutionary movement that would change this nation for the better.
And we had anger. There was no denying the fact that, had we been able to stand apart and see our own behavior in an objective fashion, we’d have been embarrassed for our stridency. We were far more narrow minded and intolerant than the dark side that we denounced. The seventies marked the birth of the political correctness movement that plagues so much of our social interaction today.
There’s a lesson in all that; stridency, anger, and the confrontational impulse will only lose this battle. And we should avoid calling it a battle, too. If ever there was a time, and a cause, for which we need reason, logic, a dispassionate view, and cool listening, this is the time, and this is the issue. Recently I had the opportunity to meet with a fellow who had many connections in the struggle, who knew a lot of important people, and a lot of people knew him. This fellow is connected, smart, energetic–and fighting mad. During our lunch date he referred to our President’s seeming disregard for a highly controversial ruling against gays in the military. His reaction was full of anger and hostility, and it became clear to me that, despite his potential ability to get things done, he was a liability to our movement.
Cool listening is simply what it claims to be: the ability to sit quietly, cooly, across from someone who may disagree, and allow them to expend whatever energy they wish in their argument. Meantime, even taking notes if you wish, the cool wind of logic allows us to really hear their fears, listen to what they’re not saying–which is often the better part of the speech–and prepare our followup response. Plus, we open ourselves to the possibility that we may learn something, and that may be the best reason to chill. Some one once told us this phrase: “Emotion high; Intelligence low.” Think about it. There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. Cool listening takes full advantage of that physical fact.
The other benefit of cool listening is, that the ability to disengage in the heat of an argument is unsettling. It’s said that the best way to get a child’s attention is to whisper. That may not apply only to kids. Cool listening can serve to calm the discussion, highlight the logic involved, and recognize that the opposition are people of goodwill, mostly, and they’ll appreciate the gesture. No one enjoys a preaching session, not even preachers. We all respond better when others take us seriously, acknowledging us as adults. Cool listening can go a long way toward moving us forward to civil marriage equality.
Here’s the bottom line: the issue of marriage equality has already been decided; it’s only a matter of time before reasonable people see the clarity of the argument in favor of marriage rights for all, and help us make it happen.
* Talking Points: CME Civil Marriage Equality
– Number of same-gender households in the U.S. 601,209 (2000)
– Number with children. 20%
– Number of states with CME. 6
– CME is a family values issue. People who earnestly wish to commit to each other should be encouraged to do so, not restricted
– States confer marriage rights; clergy perform marriage rites
– LGBT people do not militate for church weddings, only the civil right of equal marriage
– There is no gay agenda
– There is no such thing as a gay lifestyle
– In America we say liberty & justice for all, not for certain people, but ALL
– CME is a human right
– Marriage is not a heterosexual privilege but a human right
– Civil unions are separate but equal, thus inherently unequal. Would you accept a civil union instead of marriage?
– Traditional marriage has changed time and again, always to be more inclusive
– There’s no shortage of marriage licenses. If the state runs out, they’ll print more
– Do you know a gay or lesbian couple? Get to know them first, and you’ll understand
– Children can suffer in single-parent homes when there’s too little money. CME stabilizes and secures families financially and otherwise
– Over 300 studies have showed no ill effects to children in same-gender households
– Our Tradition in America has always been to increase rights, not restrict them. The Constitution is a shield, not a sword
– Listening, and finding common ground is always preferable to confrontation & anger. Light does not create heat. Heat often creates very little light
– Demographics are on our side; the issue of CME has already been decided. It’s a matter of time catching up to the culture
– People don’t marry to have kids, or join properties, or to further goals; people marry because they fall in love
– If marriage was a religious issue atheists would be barred from it
– The biggest threat to marriage today is heterosexual divorce
– LGBT people are everywhere, and all they want is what we take for granted every day
– State with the lowest divorce rate? Massachusetts; State with the highest divorce rate? Arkansas
– CME is the right thing to do