Carl Smith: Gay marriage isn't the end of equality issues

March 27, 2013 9:56:25 AM

Carl Smith - csmith@cdispatch.com

 

The Supreme Court began hearing arguments Monday in two landmark cases which could impact how states and the federal government interpret marriages. 

 

I am optimistic laws can catch up to our nation's changing viewpoint on same-sex marriages, but I'm also certain federal protections are sometimes needed to ensure equality. 

 

Sometimes, equality has to be explicitly guaranteed to protect people from obsolete viewpoints - civil rights legislation, for example, proved these guarantees are needed. 

 

To me, the issue with marriage lies with how traditional supporters interpret what that union is and how they project that interpretation to the governmental level. 

 

Marriage, to many, is a bond recognized through religious context, but holy matrimony itself is not interpreted by the state. For example, a couple can obtain a marriage license in Oktibbeha County by proving a marriage ceremony - religious or otherwise - was overseen by the proper authority. That authority is not limited to church officials because religion has no place in how the state recognizes marriage. A qualified person, including a justice of the peace or a sitting district supervisor, can sign off on a marriage ceremony. 

 

Even though religion is absent in the process to obtain marriage recognition from the government, many same-sex marriage opponents use the teachings of their faith as a primary argument against allowing men to marry men and women to marry women. 

 

Some also argue same-sex marriages shouldn't occur because they're counterintuitive to the "natural way of things" - procreation, more specifically. That argument doesn't hold much water either because many couples enter into marriage not wanting children. Using that logic, one could say same-sex marriage interferes with procreation like a union between a heterosexual couple in their 70s. 

 

But apparently, Congress felt the heat to defend traditional marriage in 1996 with the aptly named Defense of Marriage Act. That measure, one the laws challenged today in the country's highest court, defined marriage as between one man and one woman. 

 

I've always wondered: How exactly was marriage under attack? Shouldn't supporters of traditional marriage be concerned with high divorce rates rather than blocking loving, committed same-sex couples from spending their lives together with the same protections afforded heterosexual couples? 

 

Is the idea of two same-sex partners more threatening to marriage than the rising divorce rates in the country? Surely not. 

 

Public opinion on the subject has shifted dramatically in the past 20 years. In 1996, 66 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, according to a Gallup poll. That number dropped to 48 percent in 2012. 

 

Nine states - Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Maine and Washington - currently grant same-sex couples the right to marry, while others offer unions which afford rights granted to married couples. 

 

Just this month alone, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri voiced their support of same-sex marriages. Earlier, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, became the first Republican Senator to back the cause. 

 

With growing public support in Congress, I'm optimistic some sort of measure will one day finally end this issue. The fact remains equal marriage opportunity is not the stopping point; It is merely a building block toward achieving across-the-board equality. 

 

This is a fight for human dignity and respect, one we should not have to wage at this point in history. Equality for everyone means just that, no matter race, sexual orientation or creed.

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch