To answer that question, let’s take a little trip down the road of history. Marriage licenses in some form or another have existed since the Middle Ages. In the mid-19th century U.S., many states saw an opportunity to boost revenues. Others saw a racist reason to make marriage licenses mandatory, such as preventing people of different skin color from marrying. By the late 1920s, most states issued marriage licenses for record keeping, vital statistics and, of course, revenue. Today, it would be nearly impossible for governments to extricate themselves from the business of marriage because so many legal benefits depend upon a license proving marriage as recognized by the state. Property rights, death and estate benefits, insurance and repayment of debt obligations are inextricably linked to the legal state marriage.
For those arguing that modern marriage is primarily a Christian institution, the answer is no – it definitely is not. Why? Because it doesn’t matter if you are black, white, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist or completely nonreligious, everyone in this nation wanting to get married needs to get the same marriage license from the state. My marriage, for example, was a nonreligious ceremony by a notary public. Marriage for same-sex couples would change nothing about how marriage is delivered from a religious point of view, with church leaders still being able to choose who gets married in their house of worship. We do not discriminate about who can get married in other aspects of life, so why should we do so when it comes to same-sex couples? There doesn’t seem to be a good reason.
Same-sex couples are different, you say? Well, people of other faiths are different, and people of dissimilar skin color or ethnicities are different, yet we accept marriage as vital for those families as well. For anyone who thinks marriage is the best institution for a family, there is no doubt that marriage would allow same-sex couples to raise their families with greater stability and protection. It would be hypocrisy to decry same-sex couples as having less stable relationships while denying them the right to marry. Same-sex couples want to get married for the same reasons as opposite-sex couples, which are love, commitment and the solid legal recognition and benefits that only marriage provides.
At one time in the U.S., it was impossible in most places for an African American to marry a European American. Some of the same arguments used against same-sex couples today justified denying couples of different races from marrying then. People said it was an abomination, that it would degrade society and that blacks and whites were just too different. Communities were so afraid of integrating society that Southern states instituted laws preventing African Americans from using the same fountain, attending the same schools or sitting in the front of the public bus with the white folks. The “separate but equal” doctrine was in effect until the Civil Rights Act and the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ended what we now consider a shameful part of our history.
Some people think that domestic partnerships or civil unions are the same thing as marriage, yet we know they are not because same-sex couples are often denied access to their loved ones in times of emergency or have legal difficulties. Only marriage offers federal benefits and protections. Further, civil unions and domestic partnerships are not transferrable to other states under the “full-faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution. We all know today that “separate but equal” is the same as saying “separate but second-class” – and it is complete nonsense.
Marriage for same-sex couples is one of the greatest civil rights issues of the 21st century. On Nov. 6, you will have the opportunity to cast your ballot and say yes for marriage equality. How will history judge the side you choose?
Nathan Grant is a happily married, lifelong resident of Maine. He lives in Gardiner.