EDITORIALS

The course of gay marriage

Supporters of same-sex marriage practice role playing as they hone their persuasion skills at the Equality Maine campaign office in Brewer on Tuesday, May 15, 2012.
Supporters of same-sex marriage practice role playing as they hone their persuasion skills at the Equality Maine campaign office in Brewer on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. Buy Photo
Posted May 18, 2012, at 4:34 p.m.

Maine and the country as a whole are closely divided on the subject of same-sex marriage. But polls show there is a growing percentage of advocates and shrinking percentage of opponents.

As opinions shift and countries and states pass laws that allow gay couples to marry, the institution of marriage has not shattered. The opposition’s argument that same-sex marriage will undermine the sanctity of wedding vows is false.

To consider a different argument, read the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States … nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So when people hold up the Constitution as a model to follow, they should remember that clause — particularly the wording of “any person” — and its implications for same-sex marriage.

Why are opinions changing? Consider the fact that older people are more likely, and younger people are less likely, to insist that marriage must legally be between one man and one woman. The electorate demographic is changing.

Over time, specific individuals have helped alter public opinion. Frank Kameny — who was dismissed from his federal government job in 1957 for being gay — was one of them. Though he ultimately lost his lawsuit at the United States Supreme Court, he drew publicity to the issue. It wasn’t until 2009 that the government formally apologized for firing him based on his sexual orientation.

Credit can also be given to more popularly known figures, such as Ellen Degeneres, the talk-variety show host, who came out publicly as a lesbian on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997 and later legally married Portia De Rossi in 2008. Other TV shows depicting gay and lesbian relationships have followed.

Still another factor in the shift is the influence of gay or lesbian family members and friends. As a prominent example, former Vice President Dick Cheney differed from President George W. Bush over Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

When Cheney was asked about the subject at a campaign rally in Mississippi, he said, “Freedom means freedom for everyone. Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it’s an issue our family is very familiar with.”

Over the last decade, various countries have passed laws allowing same-sex marriage, including Canada, the Netherlands, Argentina, Belgium, Iceland, Portugal, Norway, Spain, Sweden and South Africa.

If advocates win at the ballot box in November, Maine will join Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe that have laws supporting same-sex marriage.

Much could depend on Maine’s ballot wording. As proposed by the campaign leader, Mainers United for Marriage, the question reads: “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”

The secretary of state may revise the question, and then will come a period of public comment. The final wording should be decided by mid-July. It’s important to note that supporters want to grant clergy the freedom to choose whether to perform marriages even though the freedom to marry is currently denied to gay couples.

In the end, the campaign should not be waged as a religious debate, as marriage is a legal contract. It is a right granted by laws, not the church. And the legalization of same-sex marriage in some places has not resulted in dramatic societal consequences.

Whether the odds look favorable for same-sex marriage in Maine depends on who you ask. But the trend over the last few decades is clear. Opinions are changing, and with them, gradually, are the laws.

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