A ‘civil’ debate on same-sex marriage


June 2015: On June 26, the United States Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. In dissent, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the Constitution had nothing to say on the subject of same-sex marriage.

So, here are some thoughts on the divisive issue from a 2003 newspaper column:

Corporate trainers love to tell the story of two sisters arguing over one orange.

Students are asked to come up with creative solutions for the standoff. Cut it in half is the obvious—and wrong answer. Afterward, the trainer informs students that one girl wanted the orange for juice, the other for the rind. (It would’ve helped if we had known that little bit of information before the trick question!)

I wonder how these modern Solomon’s would handle the juicy controversy over gay marriage?

[In 2003], the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples in that state are legally entitled to marry, thereby entitling them to the same “legal, financial, and social benefits” as heterosexual couples. Following the Massachusetts ruling, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins responded, “It is inexcusable for this court to force the state Legislature to ‘fix’ its state constitution to make it comport with the pro-homosexual agenda of four court justices.”

Hillary Goodridge, one of the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts case, explained, “Civil marriage to me is about having the economic and social security other families take for granted. And it’s about providing gay and lesbian couples with the dignity of recognition and the rights that go along with that.”

So, lines are drawn, sides are taken, charges and counter-charges made, hands are wrung, and names called. The proponents and opponents of gay marriage each want the whole orange and nothing less.

Those opposed to gay marriage argue that marriage and the family are the bedrock of a stable society. Study after study reveals that children raised with both male and female parents are healthier, better adjusted socially, and thus make better citizens. And homosexual acts lead to serious health problems that I won’t go into in a family newspaper. Anyone arguing differently simply hasn’t read or accepted the data.

Those supporting gay marriage point to the legal and financial perks afforded to married heterosexual couples, but not to gay couples: health care for partner, time off to care for loved one, bereavement leave, a say in partners medical care, inheritance issues, and even tax breaks. In a democratic, pluralistic society, that’s discrimination pure and simple.

So, how’s this for a pulp and rind solution?

1. Continue the centuries old ban on same-sex marriage. However . . .

2. Allow people (straight, gay; married, single; male, female) to specify who they want to be allowed hospital visitation, make medical decisions, use their allotment of days off, etc. Equalize the tax structure to avoid the so-called “marriage penalty” and inheritance taxes that penalize singles. Treat people as people and not by what social group to which they may belong. They can call it, say, “civil unions.”

Maybe it’s a fruity idea or maybe a “win/win” situation.

One side wins by maintaining its insistence that “marriage” is between one man and one woman. There will be no social recognition of what they consider immoral or unnatural. To sweeten the deal, throw in an amendment to the Constitution.

The other side wins by being able to determine who inherits their worldly goods, makes medical decisions, etc. (Ten states and 161 local governments now offer such protections and benefits.) Their legal rights are guaranteed.

I wish “my” side won every moral, social, and political battle. I want the whole orange! But in a pluralistic society, that’s not (nor ever will be) possible.

The best we can hope for a “civil” debate which leads to a solution that is not a compromise (cutting the orange down the middle), but a solution which gives both sides what they want (pulp and rind).

© Copyright 2003 James N. Watkins

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Note: January 27, 2015

The Mormon Church leadership offered steps toward a win/win by issuing following statement:

“We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation—protections which are not available in many parts of the country.”

Mormon officials “believe laws ought to be framed to achieve a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people, while respecting those with differing values.”

The Mormon Church preaches that sexual relations—other than those between a legally married man and woman—run contrary to the laws of God and thus opposes same-sex marriage.

However, in 2009, the Church endorsed two Salt Lake City ordinances barring housing and job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It marked the first time the faith endorsed specific, pro-gay-rights legislation.

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