Marriage is generally defined as: “A social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. Marriage is recognized by the state, a religious authority or both.” Marriage is viewed as a legal contract by the state — hence the need to obtain a license (from the state) in order to get married and a divorce decree (from the state) in order to dissolve a marriage.
One does not need to be married by a religious authority or in a identified religious location to become legally married in Maine, but one does need a marriage license to be recognized and considered legally married by the state.
It has been suggested by some that marriage should be legally defined as between one woman and one man which, considering the abysmal 50 percent divorce rate, is at best rather comically inaccurate.
Let’s look at reality. How many people do you know who have been married more than once, or twice, three times or more? Still sounds like one man and one woman? Not really. It’s one man and one woman until someone gets divorced, then it’s another man and woman and so on.
Perhaps those who feel the need to have marriage defined as between one man and one woman need to add “at a time” to their slogan.
Until 1967 (Loving v. Virginia) there were anti-miscegenation laws in this country, laws which criminalized interracial marriage. That’s right, it was illegal for African-Americans and Caucasian individuals to marry each other, as this union would somehow threaten or ruin marriage in this country. Sound ridiculously familiar?
This is what legalizing gay marriage is about. Individuals who marry are automatically afforded some 1,138 legal benefits. These marital benefits are recognized by all 50 states (and territories) as well as by the federal government. They are not recognized under civil union status.
Examples of these marital benefits include, but are not limited to: bereavement leave, probate proceedings, medical decisions, the right to inherit property, pension benefits, spousal health benefits, joint parenting rights, survivor benefits, access to “family only” services, income tax deductions, property tax exemptions, the ability to make funeral arrangements, Social Security benefits, veterans benefits and more. Married individuals take these benefits for granted — gay and lesbian individuals in committed relationships cannot.
I realize that a lot of people think that being gay is a choice — that individuals choose to be gay. Does that mean straight people choose to be straight and could be gay if they really wanted to be gay? Really?
People choose to be vegetarian, or a stockbroker, or a social worker or Protestant. I did not choose or decide to be gay anymore than a straight person chooses or decides to be straight. I had as much choice in my being gay as I did choosing my eye color, my skin color or my gender. How do I know this? Because I’m gay.
Why would someone choose to be gay? To have limited legal and civil rights? So you can be accused of wanting to molest children — statistics clearly indicate 97 percent of pedophiles are heterosexual — or marry your pet?
So here we are again in Maine, perhaps back to voting on gay marriage. Church and state are separate for a reason. This is not about church, this is about state and equal protection under the law. No one expects the Catholic Church to sanction marrying Burt and Ernie or Betty and Wilma anytime soon.
This is about civil and legal rights and those 1,138 plus automatic marriage benefits previously mentioned. No one is asking for special rights. There should be nothing special about having the same legal rights and legal opportunities that every other U.S. citizen already has.
So which is it, Maine? Either we are all afforded equal protection under the U.S. Constitution and Maine Constitution, or we’re not. It’s that simple.
Tara Mullins lives in Hampden and holds BSW and MSW degrees.