In an Aug. 24 OpEd, Lawrence E. Merrill makes a number of arguments in opposition to gay marriage that I feel I must attempt to rebut. Talking about equality is not, as Mr. Merrill asserts, “essentially meaningless” in the context of gay marriage. What the Legislature has done is correct a long-standing cultural prejudice enshrined in marital law. As it was, there were pairs of loving, consenting adults who were permitted the legal benefits of marriage, and those who were not. This immoral form of de jure discrimination has at last been ended, though I humbly submit that it is absurd that the civil rights of our gay fellow-citizens were subject to a vote in the first place.
Mr. Merrill argues that equality is “such a moveable standard that it is no standard at all.” What he then proceeds to demonstrate with his examples from American history is that our understanding of equality has changed, as old inequalities were addressed and dealt with as the injustices that they are. What we see is not the pursuit of a moveable standard but rather the progressive realization of an ideal sought after by men and women of courage and character from the inception of our country to the civil rights movement to the present. Part of this American ideal is the notion of equality, or at least of fairness. And fairness clashes with the notion that some pairs of loving, consenting adults should be legally superior to other such pairs.
Mr. Merrill thoroughly compromises his argument by equating gay marriage to polygamy, pedophilia and bestiality. While the revolting bigotry behind his innuendo hardly even merits comment, his disingenuous argument does. Gay marriage is merely the long-overdue extension of the right to marry to the remainder of the loving, consenting adult couples who reside in the state of Maine.
Yet Mr. Merrill states that “there is absolutely no consistent way” to deny the right to marry to aficionados of the above-mentioned practices if we grant it to gay couples. I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Merrill on this point. The difference between the relationships he has listed and that between a pair of men or a pair of women is that the relationships on the former list are inherently unequal. There is absolutely no comparison between the relationship of two adults and that of a man (or woman) and a harem, an adult and a child, or an adult and an animal. At least in the latter two cases the child or animal could never legally give consent to marry, as Mr. Merrill, a lawyer, is doubtless aware. This argument applies to Mr. Merrill’s comparison of a gay man’s desire to marry another man to his own hypothetical desire to marry Marilyn Monroe: the two gay men might consent to marry each other, but regrettably, because she is no longer alive, Ms. Monroe could not reciprocate Mr. Merrill’s proposal, even if she wanted to.
As for Mr. Merrill’s reach into the social sciences and his pointing out that even “[cultures] we consider barbaric” have some equivalent to heterosexual marriage, I can only reply that perhaps our exclusion of pairs of consenting adults from the institution of marriage makes us “barbaric,” too. Also, the mere fact that things have always only been done a certain way is not compelling evidence that we should not eventually allow them to be done in a different way, too.
Mr. Merrill’s insinuation that only a man and a woman can provide a stable environment for raising children lacks merit. Many of us could name stable gay couples who could provide loving and supportive homes for the unfortunate offspring of less-than-stable heterosexual relationships. The idea that gay parents provide an inadequate upbringing for children is puzzling, if not patently absurd. Does Mr. Merrill believe that gay couples live in isolation? That a pair of married lesbians raising a son might know no men from whom he could learn to be a father?
Gay marriage is not a “radical experiment.” It is simply the legal recognition that any two consenting adults should be permitted to love one another and to be equal to any other such two under the law. Gay marriage will build families, not destroy them, and it will bring us just a bit closer to that ideal of fairness.
Owen Firestone of Bangor is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.