Marriage equality is a debate that we continue to have in this country. However as of last week I have had the pleasure to witness the sixth state legalize marriage between two people of the same sex. Currently, in the United States same-sex couples can legally marry in Massachusetts, Maine (beginning mid-September 2009) Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont (beginning September 1, 2009), and New Hampshire. On May 6th the NH legislature passed legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry. However, it had to be ratified with the signature of the governor which took place on June 4th. The fight for marriage state by state is not one of symbolism it is about true equality. Many have tried to make this matter about religion and while I respect everyone's right to believe what they choose those beliefs should not be used to defend unequal governmental policies.
As this debate has continued many politicians, even President Obama, have noted that they believe that the rights of same-sex couples should be equal to that of opposite-sex couples. However, our unions should not be called marriage. They should be defined as civil unions. That statement disturbs me for it is truly a case of lack of knowledge and fear. I have wondered what is the fear or apprehension with defining same-sex unions as marriage also. To say that it devalues, as some have stated, the marriage of opposite sex couples is simply saying that what you have with your spouse is of more value than what two men or two women could ever have together. That statements reeks of all kinds of biases and bigotry for you can't make a blanket statement to determine the worth of the commitment between two people. To say that same-sex unions that have the same rights as married couple should be legally called civil unions we are espousing a separate but equal policy.
Marriage is done for reasons of love and commitment. But marriage is also a legal status, which comes with rights and responsibilities. Marriage establishes a legal kinship between you and your spouse. It is a relationship that is recognized across cultures, countries and religions. Civil unions do not afford the kinship and the same rights that marriage does for the opposite sex couples in that same state. Also, civil unions only afford certain rights to same-sex couples depending on that particular state. Currently there are approximately 1,138 rights (i.e. federal taxes --estate, social security benefits, veteran/military benefits, pensions, etc) that married couples get that those in civil unions and domestic partnerships are not.
In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in an effort to stipulate that for all federal purposes "marriage" is a union between one man and one woman. Because of that legislation, all laws pertaining to married couples apply exclusively to opposite sex couples. Therefore, in the six states mentioned above they are only afforded state rights/benefits. It should also be noted that no other states has to acknowledge the marriage of same-sex couples in their state. Currently, only one state, New York, and one recognizes marriages by same-sex couples legally entered into in another jurisdiction. While it is great that the six states have legalized same-sex marriages they do not have the ability to grant its citizens the federal rights and benefits because of the DOMA law on the federal level.
This debate will go on and it is my hope that we continue to debate it and legalize marriage for all in every state of the union. Marriage is truly about commitment to each other to love and honor your partner regardless of the fact that they same-sex or opposite-sex the goal and reasoning is the same.