It’s time marriage became a right

I can’t listen to discussions about gay marriage without thinking of the many homosexual couples I know.
   Some are parents; some are not. Some are religious; some are not. Some have held commitment ceremonies; some have not. Some are young; others are past middle age.
   But they all have one thing in common. They are in some of the most loving and stable relationships I’ve seen.
   They share responsibility for everything from the phone bill to child care. They support each other through family crises and career changes. They take vacations together and celebrate holidays and birthdays like any other couple would.
   As with any straight couple, there is far more to their relationship than what happens in their bedroom.
   And yet that is how they are judged. Regardless of how long they’ve been together, they are banned from many of the benefits that heterosexuals take for granted.
   When I get married this fall, no one is likely to deny me the right to share my husband’s health insurance policy, inherit his estate or adopt a child with him. If I were hospitalized, he could visit, and he would be allowed to make medical decisions for me if I were unable to do so.
   But for gay couples, each of these mainstays of marriage is fraught with complications.
   Only one state — Vermont — has found a way to give gay couples access to the rights enjoyed by married couples. The Legislature there recently chose to create a separate “civil union” option for gay couples rather than open marriage to them.
   Even this “separate but equal” system was quite a victory for the gay community.
   It’s remarkable that even such small steps are being made when the political climate is so unfriendly toward them. An Associated Press poll released this week found that slightly more than half of Americans think gay couples should not be allowed to marry.
   All this just boggles my mind.
   We’re at a point where an outrageous percentage of marriages end in divorce. Few Americans have not been touched in some way by a failed marriage. In my case, I saw my parents’ marriage end shortly before their 20th anniversary.
   Those lucky enough to escape such a personal connection with divorce have only to read a newspaper or watch TV to get an idea of the heartbreak involved. Any number of celebrities and politicians have had their marital woes dragged before the public eye.
   In short, straight couples have hardly staked a perfect claim to this territory. Instead, we have shown just how difficult it is to maintain a committed relationship and how hard it can be to keep even one promise through an entire lifetime.
   But in this age when we’re supposedly seeing a return to “family values,” politicians are banning one group from marriage even as they urge the rest of us to find a new respect for the institution.
   They’re saying that extending this right to gay couples would somehow weaken its value. Many still believe that people “choose” to be gay and deserve pity or even punishment for that choice.
   Instead, they should see that all people must have the ability to choose a lifelong partner and have that choice respected by the state. It’s a question of dignity and also a matter of rewarding long-term commitment with certain benefits.
   They should see that one day banning gay marriage will seem as irrational and prejudiced as banning interracial marriage.
   They should see that the only essential ingredient for a marriage is two loving individuals who are prepared to take on the world and its challenges together.
  Rachel Dickler is Weekend editor at The Daily Star.
This column was published June 3, 2000

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