Separate not equal: right to the altar needs altering

In the controversy swirling around the moral and legal implications of same-sex marriage, activists and government officials across the political spectrum are raising their voices for and against gay couples' right to marry.


As reported Tuesday by The Associated Press (""Census: 150,000 gay couples report they're married,""), the first U.S. Census information based on same-sex marriage indicates that there are 564,743 gay couples in the United States. On Oct. 11 and 12, LGBT organization Equality Across America's National Equality March will descend on Washington, D.C. to demand ""equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.""

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Their protest and demands are more than justified: to limit this liberty from any one American citizen, let alone a group of over half a million, is unconstitutional. 


Most who gay marriage are not opposed to the practical adoption, employment or insurance benefits that are already afforded to gay couples through civil unions. It is the name ""marriage,"" not the institution, that those opposed are struggling to restrict.


Though he campaigned on a platform to support gay rights, even President Barack Obama is falling victim to this increasingly heated argument. President Obama said in a 2004 Illinois Senate debate, ""gays should not face discrimination but should not marry."" By this double standard, President Obama is letting himself become the classic hypocritical political puppet. Denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry is discrimination.


The president instead supports civil unions, which are separate from marriages but provide gay couples ""equal legal rights and privileges as married couples,"" according to whitehouse.gov This double standard calls to mind the incendiary buzz-phrase of past fights for civil rights: separate but equal. Which begs the question: if marriage and civil unions are truly equal, why must they be separate at all?


When the racist ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 was overruled roughly 60 years later with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court ruled, ""separate institutions are inherently unequal."" The privileges provided to black students after Plessy v. Ferguson were always separate and never equal to the opportunities and facilities afforded to white students. The very same ""separate but equal"" paradigm between gay and straight couples will arise if marriage is to remain separate and therefore unequal.


The parallel between the battle for the equal rights of gay Americans and the civil rights battle of a scant 50 years ago for black Americans can bee seen in anti-miscegenation laws. In the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, the court wrote in its decision, ""Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival (…) To deny this fundamental freedom (…) is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.""


While one can be grateful that the fundamental freedom for straight couples to marry whomever they like was finally upheld, one might wonder why some groups of society are still limited by the government in whether they will be honored at the altar.


The ruling went on to say, ""The freedom of choice to marry (may) not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.""


It is about time a member of the Supreme Court called the restriction of marriage from gay and lesbian couples an incendiary word even close to ""invidious,"" an adjective that can mean offensively or unfairly discriminating or injurious but also obsolete.


There should never be a constitutional amendment to prevent a freedom to any group of people in this ""land of the free;"" discrimination of any kind is obviously unconstitutional.


Until ""homophobe"" conjures up the same apologetic fervor as ""racist,"" logical and empathetic Americans must realize that separate can never be equal, and that the fight for civil rights for all Americans is never really over.



— Anna Swenson writes for the Wildlife section. She is a sophomore majoring in English. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu


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