An Email Exchange about Marriage Equality

Background for non-Minnesotans: Election Day in the US is coming up on November 6. In Minnesota, the state legislature has put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide whether the state constitution should be amended to say that only marriages between one man and one woman will be recognized in Minnesota. In other words, making same-sex marriage even more illegal than it already is, since Minnesota already does not recognize same-sex marriages.

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Image from Minnesotans United for All Families website

I received the following email exchange from a friend last spring. In the hope that it might help even one person think about how harmful and hurtful voting yes on this amendment will be, I asked John*, a friend of a friend, if I could post the exchange here.

*I have changed the names of both John and Mary. I received permission from John to post the exchange with the request I change Mary’s name. I changed both for her privacy.

May 13, 2012
Hi, John,
Nice to hear from you again; I’ve been busy with one thing or another but fine.  So, my opinion is I have no problem with granting all legal rights to same-sex couples and I would call that a civil union.  I have a problem calling it “marriage” because in my mind that refers to one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church.  Then I thought there needs to be a new word for “married” and “marriage” referring to same-sex couples and I came up with “pairried” and “pairriage”.  That looks kind of silly when I look at it printed out but maybe you get my idea.  Why can’t they just settle for calling it civil unions?  I’ll be interested to hear what responses you may have gotten relating to this aspect of the situation.

~Mary

May 16, 2012
Mary,

Thank you for valuing my stand on the issue of marriage equality.  First off when you say “they” you are speaking about me – I am gay.  Your concern is clearly caused by your religion and this is where I have a hard time understanding religious people.  This is entirely a civil matter – no one is saying religious institutions have to marry gay couples though many are perfectly comfortable doing just that.  Marriage equality means this, a marriage license is issued by the state – a civil authority meant to treat all people equally.  Once a couple has the license they can have a civil or religious ceremony – so your church chooses to refuse to recognize that license and that is its prerogative – thought I think that is wrong.  The civil institution of marriage comes with about 1500 civil rights/laws that apply to married couples and we are insisting that these civil rights and laws apply to our marriages as well.  Separate but equal (in this case civil unions) is a concept that was proven wholly unworkable and inherently discriminatory when it was applied to African-Americans for over 50 years in this country.  There is no point in even starting down that road again.

Next, marriage being a sacrament in the Catholic Church does not mean your church invented the concept or owns its application in civil society.  Marriage existed long before the Catholic Church and is practiced by Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc., and by atheists – all of whom your church would not marry but has no problem recognizing their marriages.  The Catholic Church makes no effort to regulate or pass judgement on those marriages though they clearly are marriages and are operating under multiple sets of differing rules outside the teachings of the Catholic Church.  This is not a Catholic country and it is not even a Christian country it is a multicultural country that gets more so every year.  Our laws need to apply equally to all the people.  And, make no mistake – the only reason for a constitutional amendment is because our current constitution (State and Federal) allows for marriage equality.  After all, the Declaration of Independence says ‘We find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ – not ‘all straight men are created equal’.

The Catholic Church also stands against divorce and birth control but you see no effort for constitutional amendments governing those issues and I believe it is obvious why – too many Catholics use those rights to ever make outlawing them possible.  Nothing is easier than the old saying “do as I say not as I do” – it is no problem convincing people in the majority to deny a minority something that requires no sacrifice on their part and makes them feel morally superior.  It is wrong and needs to be called out for what it is – hypocritical.

Think also of the strides this country has made in setting right age-old ‘traditions’ that had long outlived common sense and decency.  It was only a 100 years ago women couldn’t vote – marginalizing women is a very long-standing tradition of all societies going back thousands of years and still going on.  But, finally, in this country it was questioned and considered reasonably and found to be wrong.  Slavery existed up until 150 years ago in this country and had done so for hundreds of years.  It also was present in all societies around the world for thousands of years.  It took the costliest war in terms of human losses in American history to finally put an end to that abomination.  And battles on both those issues continue to this day.  But those examples and others show us how some people tenaciously cling to horrible injustices and hide behind tradition and even religion to justify their ‘beliefs’.  Surely we are better than that.

I sincerely hope I didn’t offend you with my frank appraisal but I have lived with this prejudice in hundreds of insidious ways all my 63 years.  I have seen peoples lives destroyed by it and it very nearly destroyed mine.  I firmly believe 50 years from now people will look back on this struggle in the way we look back on women’s rights, African-American rights and the end of slavery and say ‘what was all the fuss about’ – it’s a no-brainer – everyone deserves to be treated equally – and, just importantly, we are ALL better off for it.

Remember, we are the only minority discriminated against because of who we love.  Please let me know if you would like to talk about this further but, if so, how about face to face over coffee.  Thanks again for asking for my thoughts.  I sincerely hope when the time comes you will cast your vote for reason, equality, fairness and out of love.

Your friend, John

On May 17, 2012, Mary wrote:
Your e-mail was MOST interesting; a lot for me to ponder.  That’s why I’d rather not, yet, talk over coffee; I need time to absorb and formulate.  Let me say first, if I had met you wearing a wedding ring, my first thought would not have been that you had a husband.  However, I supposed when you sent out the Feb. article that you probably were personally interested in the subject.  And thank you for your lengthy response.  Question 1: I am FOR equal legal rights so does that “trump” my objection to calling it marriage?  Question 2:  If I, or someone, is FOR the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, does that necessarily mean I, or someone, is AGAINST equal legal rights?  I used the word “they” meaning everyone, can’t everyone call it something other than “marriage.”  I consider the United States a Christian country but maybe I’m wrong; that’s kind of beside the point.  I think the point you made that helped me think about this more clearly (?) is the fact that the Catholic Church recognizes that even atheists are married, which is about as far from the teachings of any religion as you can probably get.  And people who get married by a Justice of the Peace in only a civil ceremony are still “married,” so there goes the idea of marriage being a universal sacrament.  Right?  Question 3: If gay/lesbian people can get married, would that make it easier for them to “come out of the closet?”  That would probably be a good thing.  OK, thanks!  I’ll wait to hear back!

~Mary

May 26, 2012
Mary,

I think your third sentence is very important – you didn’t identify me as being gay and that is just the point, we are, in fact, just like everyone else, same dreams, hopes and desires and it’s only after we have been identified as gay that society then wants to treat us differently –  and that’s wrong.

Question 1 – Yes.  Equal rights includes marriage.  Please remember this is a civil right not a religious right.  There is no religion in America that legally marries anyone.  A couple that goes through a religious ceremony is not legally married unless they have a license from the state and it is properly signed.  That may sound strange but that is the fact, ask any lawyer.  It is that legal /civil right that we need in order to have equal protection for ourselves and our families.  Whether a religious institution wants to then perform a ceremony is up to them and it is not part of this issue (though some churches say that it is, it is not, they say that to muddle and confuse people).  It is the civil/legal right we need.

Question 2 – Yes.  Saying you are for equal legal rights but wanting to define a legal right to exclude a segment of the population is discriminatory.  The term ‘Jim Crow Law’ was coined just to that point.  African-Americans were routinely excluded from their civil rights by narrow and targeted discriminatory laws throughout the south.  Look how well that turned out.  We are a nation that has a constitution meant to protect all the citizens’ civil rights and the constitution expressly forbids any laws governing religion.  Both religion and civil society use the term ‘marriage’ so that may cloud the issue for some but it is only our civil marriage rights we want to protect through our constitutional laws.  Religion may do as it pleases (sadly so in some cases – have you seen the youtube video of the Baptist minister in North Carolina who, from the pulpit, in his Mother’s Day sermon called for gays, lesbians, homosexuals and queers to be put in concentration camps until they die so as to wipe us out?  It is chilling that people can say those things, and be so obviously ignorant, under the protection of religious freedom while simultaneously amending their constitutions to further marginalize and alienate gays, as North Carolina just did.  Aren’t we better citizens and human beings than that?)

Regarding the U.S. being a Christian nation – the point I was making is not that the U.S. isn’t a nation whose majority of citizens are Christian – that, of course, is true.  What I was saying is that we are not a Christian Republic in the sense that Iran is an Islamic Republic.  In our country, though we are majority Christian, we do not write our laws to suit any particular religion – divorce, birth control, intermarriage of religions etc. are all legal and civil rights in this country regardless that many religions oppose all three of those and more.  We are, in fact, protected from religion by our constitutions.

Yes, you are right, atheists marrying and Justice of the Peace ceremonies prove marriage is not in any legal sense recognized by the state as a universal sacrament given through religion.

Question 3 – Yes, yes a million times yes.  It has been proven over and over that it is the idea, the concept, of someone being gay that people have a hard time getting over but once they know gay people (as you now ‘know’ me and you probably know more gay people than you realize) they begin to see we aren’t alien creatures but just like everyone else – we have our ‘good, bad and ugly’ just like straight people do.  Full legal acceptance would hugely help young people in particular as they begin to adapt in a heterosexual society.  Think of the teen suicides in Minnesota alone in the last few years that were direct results of bullying because of who those kids loved.  The full inclusion into our multicultural society would make a world of difference.

Finally, this particular amendment to the Minnesota constitution is not about legalizing gay marriage.  If it is rejected that does not mean gay marriage will then be legal.  There is still a law on the books in this state that prevents gay marriage.  This amendment is meant to make it even harder to ever change the law to recognize our right to marry.  It is just an attempt to pile on the restrictions and obstructions to make it harder and harder to gain equality.  And this from a party that claims to stand for less government and to keep government out of peoples’ lives – it is reprehensible.

I do not mean to be long-winded but this is truly an important issue.  We are people just like everyone else.  When you look at a crowd of people you have no idea who is married and who isn’t nor do you have any idea how they live their lives or if they are gay, straight, German or atheist and that is as it should be.  Let people get on with their lives and their pursuits of happiness as long as they don’t hurt others and, surely, people loving each other and trying to raise families, paying taxes, going to church, working hard at jobs etc, etc does not hurt anyone else.  If passed this amendment will directly control peoples’ lives in a negative and hurtful way and diminish us all.  We only ever amend constitutions to enlarge the rights of all people not to segregate and punish a minority.

Thanks again for the opportunity to tell you what this amendment will mean to thousands and thousands of people in just this state alone.  And thanks for keeping an open mind and having an interest in learning about a segment of society that has gotten mostly ‘bad press’ for too many years.  John

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