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Opinion

Gay, lesbian marriage requires equal respect

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April 9, 2009

I am not known as a very outspoken person. I’m not a politician or an activist. I am not a member of any clubs, I donÕt march along with protests and there is no one cause that I passionately stand for.

I think a lot of students here are the same way. We are bystanders, not agitators. We are calmly observing a fascinating period of history as it unfolds before our eyes. Contrary to the views of some social commentators who criticize our generation as apathetic or hopelessly distracted, there are certain principles we stand forÑwe simply express ourselves with more modesty and rationality than did many college students in the ‘60s and ‘70s. As many of us realize, you can make waves without whipping up a hurricane.

Although I don’t make a huge deal out of my opinions, there are many things I support; like gender equality, international cooperation, pacifism, education, free speech, the acceptance of human nature and (of course) the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And I was happy to hear that earlier this week, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. (The others were Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa.)

Gay rights are another issue I support, and not just in the case of those four states. Frankly, it’s somewhat baffling that the other 46 havenÕt seen the writing on the wall yet. Gay and lesbian relationships seem no less healthy or loving than straight ones. Their families seem no less supportive or responsible. And their wishes are pretty much the same as everyone elseÕs: to live free and happy lives.

Sure, some have proposed civil unions as a compromise, saying they are basically as good as marriage. But I think those are really just a band-aid. They’re a way for us to let gays have legal partnership, while still keeping them away from the legitimacy and “sanctity” of marriage (real or imagined). That’s not enough. They should have the same exact opportunitiesÑno more, no lessÑand that means they should be able to use the same institution as straight couples.

If you happen to have misgivings or moral objections about gay marriage, fine; many people still do. But the fact is morality and religion should have nothing to do with this issue. It is not the government’s job to uphold Christian values. Their obligation is to improve the lives of U.S. citizens. For all intents and purposes, same-sex marriage is a question of equal opportunity and representation under the U.S. Constitution. Quite apart from any spiritual meaning one might attach to a marriage, it is a legal arrangement, and any two people have the right to access it if they wish.

Unfortunately, in a situation that has been repeated many times throughout our history, this right is not yet respected by most of the country even though it was spelled out in black and white in 1776. Two hundred thirty-two and a half years ago.

I’m as patient as the next person, but sometimes I have to ask myself: when is this country finally going to learn? How many times will we have to repeat this pattern? It seems like there was always some group we were looking down on, some group whose rights we were leaving in the dust. And there was always an excuse. “Blacks aren’t civilized enough to handle freedom from slavery.” “Women are too emotional to handle voting.” And now we hear, “Gay people and their relationships threaten our values.”

I say that if anything threatens U.S. values, it is that age-old tendency to disregard the civil liberties of people we happen to disagree with. That’s what we really need to watch out for. Our founders started out with a great vision, but it’s our job to see it through, and previous generations have dropped the ball time and time again. I think we should be part of the solution, not the problem. And supporting the rights of gaysÑin our own practical, understated wayÑis a great place to start.