Second-class citizens

After the November elections, 13 states now ban same-sex marriage, and some of these states also ban any possibility of civil unions or domestic partnerships. The harsher amendments may be used to revoke same-sex benefits that many companies, municipalities and colleges currently offer their gay employees.

In 13 states, I am now constitutionally a second-class citizen, prohibited from enjoying the same rights and freedoms that my straight peers enjoy. The Christian right has ignored this reality. I commend their superb rhetoric that has convinced many Americans that gay marriage threatens others’ well-being and undermines the bedrock of American civilization. Let’s look at their arguments:

  1. Marriage is a sacred union

Wrong. Marriage is principally a civil arrangement, and in fact, according to historian George Chauncey, “the religious dissenters who colonized New England decisively rejected ecclesiastical regulation of marriage…. After the American Revolution, all states recognized marriage as a purely civil matter.” God is not present at the town clerk’s office when an engaged couple arrives to pick up a marriage license. One can choose to have clergy officiate at a wedding to symbolize a holy union, but ultimately, the pen to the paper seals the deal. Americans are free to attach religious significance to marriage, but that freedom does not extend to mandating what marriage signifies for all citizens.

  1. Marriage is between a man and a woman

Not quite. Marriage was originally an arrangement between a man and his wife; in other words a man and his property. A woman lost most of her legal rights and became a dependent of her husband. Married Women’s Property Acts in many states in the mid-19th century finally gave married women the legal rights to enter contracts and own property; however, the notion that women were wards of their husbands continued in public policy (and still continues in some fundamentalist circles). Again, God had nothing to do with this pseudo-enslavement.

  1. Changing marriage will destroy society

Please. “To weaken the law concerning the marital status is to strike at the foundation of society. The stability of the State itself is involved.” This is the Catholic Welfare Committee’s response to New York legislation to make desertion a grounds for divorce in 1934. God forbid a deserted woman will want a divorce and thus destroy the state! The Lutheran Church once warned its members that marrying a Catholic would “condemn unborn children to the soul-destroying religion of the antichrist.” I can’t deny that the Pope’s vestments do resemble Liberace’s flamboyant attire.

Jerry Falwell used to preach that interracial marriage would ultimately “destroy our race” as human beings, and now he recites the same drivel about gay marriage. A lower court judge in the Loving v. Virginia (1967) decision noted the fact that God “separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix [marry]” in order to justify upholding the ban on interracial marriage.

Southern Christians in particular feared interracial marriage would destroy civilization. Nearly forty years after Loving v. Virginia, it’s safe to say that civilization is still around, though divorce rates and the number of single mothers continue to skyrocket. If interracial marriage caused so many problems, surely no one will want to marry if gays are extended the right! Anti interracial and gay marriage stances are simply ruses for racism and homophobia.

Marriage is a civil right in this country—one of the foundations of legal arrangements. Without marriage, gay partners are denied more than 1,100 state and federal benefits and protections that marriage secures, including hospital visitation, insurance, tax claims, immigration, estate taxes, family leave, nursing homes, pensions and so on. Gay partners are left helpless to the whims of employers, disapproving families, and the state without these protections.

Second-class citizenship in this country apparently ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now in 2004 gay and lesbian Americans have become a separate class of inferior citizens, and it all took was Karl Rove and moral hysteria. Gays and lesbians have the most to lose, but any conscientious citizen should be worried about the state of this country when second class citizenship can be so hastily written into the laws of the land. Who’s next on the list in 2008?


Christopher Scoville is a Trinity senior.


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