Civil unions for all Americans

The topic of same sex marriage has entered the spotlight after millions of Americans witnessed gay and lesbian couples tie the knot in San Francisco, New Paltz, New York and even Asbury Park, NJ. Let’s

The topic of same sex marriage has entered the spotlight after millions of Americans witnessed gay and lesbian couples tie the knot in San Francisco, New Paltz, New York and even Asbury Park, NJ. Let’s face it: Same sex marriage has entered the mainstream consciousness of American life, and is sure to be an election-year issue as the debate shifts from the states to the federal government. The solution to this dilemma is civil unions for all Americans – not just gays and lesbians.

Conservatives cry foul and balk at the rulings of ‘activist’ state judges, while employing many of the same tactics used in the not-so-distant past against interracial marriage and in denying blacks their civil rights. These people should be ashamed of their outright bigotry and should keep their personal and religious views out of public life.

As a response to the ‘threat’ of gay marriage, the religious right has crystallized its arguments into a crusade to defend the institution of marriage and ‘traditional’ values. The first salvo was launched amidst calls from President Bush to amend the United States Constitution to outlaw gay marriage, while simultaneously usurping states’ rights.

Recently, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for an end to gay marriages in San Francisco. In New Paltz, two Unitarian Universalist ministers were criminally charged for carrying out gay marriage ceremonies and New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey halted Asbury Park’s offer of marriage licenses. The county of Dayton, Tennessee – made famous by the Scopes monkey trial – even attempted to ban homosexuals from living within its limits.

As part of the anti-gay backlash by conservatives, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill have proposed a law allowing Congress to overturn U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Backers of the H.R.3920: Congressional Accountability for Judicial Activism Act of 2004 bill, are willing to go so far as to break down the checks and balances, the very foundation of the Constitution, just to deny others the rights that they themselves possess.

Here in Pennsylvania, State Rep. Jerry Birmelin, (R-Wayne), plans to introduce legislation stripping away existing civil rights from gay people living in Pennsylvania. These include the right to adopt a child (adoption agencies in the United States accept gay adoption), and the right to be insured by and pass on assets to a spouse in the event of death. Birmelin should change his name to Jim Crow – his ideas are a throw back to an embarrassing chapter in our history.

These are the same tactics that were employed more than 50 years ago against interracial marriage after it was first legalized in California in 1948. Likewise, the state of Alabama finally lifted its ban on interracial marriage Nov. 8, 2000.

If the rights of blacks had been voted on in the 1950s and 60s, as opponents of gay marriage suggest be done today in the case of gay marriage, would there be such as thing as civil rights? It is an ironic and uniquely American coincidence that George W. Bush resurrected these specters of the past during Black History Month.

The guise of ‘traditional’ values coupled with misinterpreted religious doctrine has been used to dignify slavery (Exodus 21:7) (Lev. 25:44) as well as the inequitable and cruel treatment of women (Ephesians 5:22-24 NLT) (1 Timothy 2:11-15 NLT) throughout the world.

Nowadays, neo-conservatives wax poetic rhetoric about the restrictions faraway theocracies such as Iran place on human rights, while using religion in an approximate manner to force their own viewpoints upon others and restrict civil liberties at the home front.

Advocates for and against the notion of gay marriage are overlooking a simple fact: Marriage is a religious institution. Government should only recognize civil unions, whether they were between a man and a woman, or people of the same sex.

While the scope and meaning of the separation of church and state is still a debatable topic – civil rights is not. It is the function of the federal government to defend the rights granted to us all by the Constitution.

If this mean-spirited philosophy is allowed to become law, the widowed gay and lesbian victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks would not be able to collect any compensation. In fact, many of these victims have had a difficult time under existing laws. Our government should provide equal protection under the law and leave marriage to the churches, synagogues, and mosques of America.

David Worthington can be reached at

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