Legal benefits at heart of marriage bid

Posted March 24, 2009, at 7:45 p.m.

There has been a war of words in Maine for many years between those for and against gay rights. Now both sides are at it again, this time over the issue of same-sex marriage, one of the hottest topics in the nation today.

Marriage is, at its heart, a religious institution. Couples are joined “in the sight of God” to be wed in “holy matrimony.” Marriages are traditionally held in a church, synagogue or other religious building. The First Amendment of the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Therefore, as a religious institution, the government has no power over whether or not two people of the same gender have a marriage ceremony.

It seems, however, that people on both sides of the debate, as well as the news organizations that chronicle the ongoing battle, are focusing on the ceremonial aspects of marriage, as though this whole fight is over whether same-sex couples can have a gathering in church, be joined under the sight of God and live happily together for the rest of their lives. This is not the case. This fight is over the more than 1,000 rights given to legally recognized married couples.

Those who oppose the proposed bill, many of them vocal opponents of the gay rights bill passed in 2005, are using language intended to cause fear in order to get the result they want instead of debating the issue with supporters of the bill. In the article, “Battle heats up as same-sex marriage bill printed” (BDN, March 14), the paper quotes Michael Heath, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, that “the public is the last group these politicians care about. If they cared about children, they’d be upholding marriage and family instead of trying to destroy them.”

First of all, this almost sounds as if he’s saying, “If you support gay marriage, you don’t care about children or family.” This isn’t true at all, as many supporters of gay marriage whom I have met have wonderful children of their own and value their family above everything else.

Second, it also sounds like he’s saying that gay marriage would destroy marriage and family. This is also far from the truth. There are many same-sex couples who not only are more loving and supportive of each other than some straight couples I know, but who also would make much better parents. One of my former teachers has been living with the same partner for more than 30 years.

Is Heath saying that were they allowed to marry they would destroy marriage more than the multitudes of couples who get married and have kids only to divorce a couple of years later?

If this bill passes, there will be more families, not fewer of them. This bill won’t stop traditional couples from marrying, it will just let same-sex couples share the same legal benefits. In other words, nobody is getting hurt, the state is just giving rights to more people.

In another article, “Maine gay marriage law proposed” (BDN, Jan. 14), Marc Mutty, director of public policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said, “To change the meaning of marriage to add same-sex couples would open it up to all kinds of other things.” So in other words, if we let two people of the same sex get married, suddenly people will want to marry their horses, dogs and other assorted animals? I’m a pretty open guy, and I’m willing to respect what people do, but you’d be hard-pressed to see me or anyone else I know support changing the definition of marriage to include animals.

Once again, opponents of gay marriage are using scare tactics to get residents to vote against it.

If these groups want to debate this issue fairly using facts and honest concerns instead of resorting to frightening but laughably unlikely “slippery slope” arguments and scare-tactics, I’ll be happy to meet them at the table. Until then, however, they are simply proving themselves to be men who are desperate to avoid change that will most likely benefit all residents of Maine.

Richard Veysey of Lamoine is a student on leave from the University of Southern Maine.

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