On Monday, September 19, 2005, I attended a meeting at McLean Bible Church. At this meeting, State Senator Ken Cuccinelli, Delegate Richard Black, Virginia Cobb of the Family Foundation and Patricia Phillips of the Concerned Women for America spoke in support of the proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage or recognition for anything trying to emulate marriage in Virginia.
As I listened to the arguments against same-sex marriage, I couldn’t help wonder what the fuss was about. Although I was too young to remember it, I later learned about the case of Loving vs. Virginia in school. In this case, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Commonwealth of Virginia contended before the Supreme Court that its ban prohibiting blacks and whites from marrying was both proper and valid. The trial judge in Virginia
said, as part of his justification, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.
And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” The implication is that permitting marriages to people with differing skin colors was contrary to God’s plan. In
many of the arguments of the day the words, “unnatural”, and “against nature” were heard.
Thirty-eight years later,Senator Cuccinelli, speaking about same-sex marriage said that it was “contrary to the laws of God and nature”. Delegate Black called it “unnatural”. This has a familiar ring. Virginia legislators have a long history of trying to deny civil rights.
Senator Cuccinelli claimed that allowing same-sex marriage would “rip society apart” though he didn’t supply any justification for this. For the last year, Massachusetts has allowed same-sex marriage. Brian Lees, a Republican legislator in Massachusetts recently said, “Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry.” What is most significant about Mr. Lees is that he was one of the co-sponsors of the Massachusetts marriage amendment in 2004.
Many provinces of Canada have allowed same-sex marriage for even longer and society in our northern neighbor does not appear to be on the verge of collapse. The Netherlands, where same-sex marriage has been allowed does have one study that Ms. Phillips claims shows the harm of same-sex marriage. However, the facts do not appear to support the claim. Marriage rates did not measurably drop nor did divorce rates measurably increase according to a July 2004 paper by Dr. M. V. Lee Badgett of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Even if the study she referenced were correct about its facts, correlation does not imply cause and there is no data to suggest that same-sex marriage hurts society in any way.
All four speakers claimed that marriage had to be protected.Over the last year, I have asked several legislators exactly how allowing two people of the same-sex to get married harms their marriage. I have yet to get a response. It seems quite the opposite to me. Allowing same-sex marriage would strengthen marriage by allowing loving, committed couples to formalize their relationship in a way that would promote strong family values.
They also claimed that same-sex marriage was a “biological impossibility”. They implied that marriage only existed for procreation and that anyone who had a marriage where the father did not sire and the mother did not bear the child was living less than the ideal marriage. Of course, procreation is only one of the reasons people marry. I know many heterosexual couples that either through circumstance or choice do not have children. Does this lack invalidate their marriages? All of them would loudly proclaim that it does not.
Finally, I’d like to address the one concrete example that was given. Delegate Black said that one of the reasons that same-sex couples wanted to marry was hospital access. He went on to say that it was a non-issue, that no hospital had ever banned a partner from visiting. I suspect he is wrong but even if he were right, he has missed the most important part of the issue. He said that it was as simple as the partner in the hospital saying it was OK for the other partner to visit. What if this person is unconscious? What if medical decisions need to be made? While a medical power of attorney can prevent this problem, what if the document is not present? For him to dismiss matters of life and death as mere access is
disingenuous and misses the point. This is just one of many rights that married couples take for granted yet we are forced to scramble through the legal system to protect our families because people like Delegate Black refuse to recognize the legitimacy of our families. His refusal hurts not just lesbian and gay Virginians but our children.
In closing, I’d again like to focus on a statement by Senator Cuccinelli. He believes that marriage is in trouble. He believes that divorce and single-parent families threaten the family. Yet, instead of trying to solve those problems, he has chosen to “protect” marriage by keeping it available only to heterosexual couples. I suggest that he actually focus on the real problem instead of attacking a group of people because it is politically popular.
In the 1950’s it was common to equate homosexuality with the communist threat. In recent years, some prominent people have claimed that gays were somehow responsible for terrorism. The truth is that most gay people, like most straight people, are good, hardworking people who love their country and their families. Passing the marriage amendment would do nothing to protect marriage but it would institutionalize discrimination against gay and lesbian Virginians.