Same-sex unions

While Kerry supports same-sex civil unions, Bush’s position is unlawful and hateful.

In this presidential election, same-sex marriage is an issue that distinguishes Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush. It also exemplifies the candidates’ moral and political resolve. Kerry has stood in support of extending equal rights to same-sex couples, whereas Bush is pressing to constitutionalize discrimination under the auspices of protecting a bedrock of civilization.

But who is more civilized?

Demonstrating resolve to principled policy, Kerry was the only senator up for re-election in 1996 to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. His convictions were not swayed by an election.

Nor has Bush swayed in his principles. He not only supports the act – he wants to weave the doctrine that marriage means one man and one woman into our nation’s fabric.

Contrary to what opponents say, this is not a special-rights issue, but one of equal rights.

Because heterosexuals are allowed to marry under the law, they can visit their spouses in the hospital without undue restriction, they can mourn the death of their spouses with financial protections, they can typically receive health-care benefits from employers and, most importantly, they can know that at a very basic level, the government respects their relationships.

The situation for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is markedly different. The many rights accorded to legally married heterosexual couples are denied to same-sex partners, and, ultimately, homosexual unions are deemed illegitimate by our government, with the exception of Vermont and Massachusetts.

This is not a debate about religion or religious ceremonies. Rather, it is about state-sanctioned marriages – who is legally allowed to marry before the state and, in turn, who is given the legal and social rights afforded to married couples.

Instead of this mess, the government should get out of the marriage business altogether, opting to issue civil unions to heterosexual and homosexual couples alike. The state would then grant the rights and duties of a committed life to all, leaving the spiritual issues of marriage to religious denominations.

Kerry supports civil unions, though he has never indicated a desire to do away with secular marriage and seems to be shooting more for a middle ground politically.

Political positioning is sadly the electoral strategy for this issue. Bush did not seem to support the Federal Marriage Amendment until forced to do so by an intolerant wing of the right. But even if Jerry Falwell and Gary Bauer backed Bush into a corner on the issue, Bush has made his political bed and now must sleep in it. As such, Kerry is without question the superior candidate on same-sex unions and, by extension, equal rights.

Granting equal rights to homosexual unions in no way threatens marriage. In addition, it should be unlawful to continue denying rights to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, because the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, as well as all the relevant privileges the law offers other people.

In fact, this is why Bush supports the amendment. In a speech he gave in Ohio this August, Bush applauded the Defense of Marriage Act, but said he is “worried about its constitutionality.” Even Bush thinks it takes an amendment to make the act legal.

Social conservatives tell us a ban on gay marriage is appropriate because a majority of the populous supports it. The majority of people represented by these polls do not identify as GLBT. Protecting minority rights was a key reason for writing the Bill of Rights, as well as various amendments. Intolerant majority opinion is why these ideas exist, not why they should be altered.

Same-sex marriage is only one issue affecting the GLBT community. Aside from the issues that affect nearly every citizen – health care, education, the economy and Iraq – the struggle for equal rights will not be won simply by defeating Bush’s policies on gay marriage.

Promoting safer sex and sex-positive education in public schools, an alien concept in Bush’s agenda of abstinence-only sex education; inclusive language in hate-crimes legislation and anti-discrimination employment laws are just a few issues especially impacting the GLBT community. Across the board, Kerry’s platform is more tolerant, respectful and prudent.

Still, the struggle for equal rights will not be won by presidential decrees alone. As a society, we have a long way to go to respect people of all sexualities and genders as equals.

But if Bush wins another term, his push for legalizing could not only mean a step backward for tolerance, it will extend a veil of legitimacy to society’s bigotry.