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Local view: Banning gay marriage would institutionalize injustice

"No member of this state shall be ... deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen." -- Minnesota State Constitution I am your neighbor and fellow worker. I volunteer with you to make our community a better place to live. I ...

Gay-rights rally
Gary Anderson (left) and Gary Boelhower of Duluth speak at an April 14 gay-rights rally in front of the Minnesota Capitol. The couple plans to exchange vows in a church in July, but wishes the state would allow them to legally marry under civil law, which confers benefits to spouses and children. (Don Davis / Forum Communication)

"No member of this state shall be ... deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen." -- Minnesota State Constitution

I am your neighbor and fellow worker. I volunteer with you to make our community a better place to live. I also am an educator, theologian, consultant and writer. I enjoy cross-country skiing, hiking and sailing.

By the way, I am also gay.

When I think about my life, I don't start there. When I introduce myself, I don't start there. Like you, my sexuality doesn't define me. Who I am is connected to my interests, joys and passions. Like you, I didn't choose my sexual orientation. In my youth, there was a great deal of misinformation about homosexuality. I didn't see any role models of committed gay relationships. I am grateful things have changed.

With the support of family and friends, my partner and I will celebrate our commitment of sacred marriage on July 30 at Peace United Church of Christ (UCC) in Duluth. The UCC, as well as other Christian denominations (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Presbyterian Church USA), have many "open and affirming" or "reconciling" churches. They have taken a strong stand for marriage equality.

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Several other religious traditions, including Reformed Jews, Unitarians, the Metropolitan Community Church and the Episcopal Church, celebrate sacred unions of same-sex couples. In our own community, a consortium of congregations (including Pilgrim Congregational, Gloria Dei, First United Methodist, Peace, Unitarian) has been advocating for 10 years for LGBT rights.

I am not asking your church to change its teachings. In the U.S. we are free to express a diversity of spiritual traditions. Religious marriage will justly remain the prerogative of each faith tradition.

But the state of Minnesota is constitutionally bound to treat all citizens equally; that includes civil-marriage equality.

Last Tuesday, Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature announced plans to put a gay marriage ban before voters in 2012 ("Minnesota lawmakers push for gay marriage vote," April 27). To ban gay marriage would institutionalize injustice in our constitution, which wisely emphasizes the rights of all citizens and protects against the discriminatory reservation of certain rights to only some citizens.

As we know from our history, it is not unusual for those in power or those in the majority to reserve certain rights and privileges for themselves. Not until 1920 did women have the right to vote. Not until 1967 were laws criminalizing interracial marriage ruled unconstitutional. It is not coincidental that strong religious arguments were used to enforce racial segregation at the level of marriage and intimate relationships.

In seeking marriage equality, I am not asking for special privileges; I am simply claiming the same protections and responsibilities as my heterosexual married neighbors.

I could move to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont or Washington, D.C., where same-sex couples can receive a marriage license; but Duluth is home for my partner and me. For us, marriage equality is ultimately about the public recognition of our love and commitment. To be sure, there are important protections granted to married straight couples that would benefit us: Social Security benefits, health insurance, estate taxes, family leave, home protection, pensions and more.

The protections of civil marriage are even more important for children being raised by same-sex couples. They may not receive Social Security survivor benefits if their parent dies. When their parents pay unfair taxes, don't have the same insurance benefits as other couples, can't receive their partner's veteran benefits, etc., the children feel the economic impact. The evidence is clear these children are being raised in loving homes. More than 100 scientific studies have shown that children raised by same-sex couples are as stable and feel just as loved as other children. These studies have led the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, among others, to advocate for the protections of marriage for gay and lesbian families. Still, these parents and children are required to make additional sacrifices because they are treated unequally under the law.

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Government must protect the rights of all citizens. It cannot choose to recognize some marriages and not others. It cannot provide benefits for two loving adults committed to spending the rest of their lives together only if they love in a certain way. It cannot choose to protect some families and not others.

Faith traditions may define marriage according to their doctrines and sacred writings, but civil law must treat all people equally.

Gary Boelhower of Duluth is a theology professor at the College of St. Scholastica, a poet and a marriage-equality advocate.

Gary Boelhower
Gary Boelhower of Duluth is a theology professor at the College of St. Scholastica, a poet and a marriage-equality advocate.

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