Gay marriage bill begins an important debate
Posted on December 9, 2008
Filed Under Uncategorized
After a recent screening of Rachel Getting Married at Red River Theatres in Concord, an older woman in the audience commented that the entire film struck her as far-fetched – not because of the grim drama of drug addiction and family dysfunction, but because the wedding at the center of the story was between a black man and a white woman. Those two, she said, would never be together.
Younger audience members reacted to her in puzzled disbelief, as if to say, What on earth are you talking about – it’s the 21st century, for Pete’s sake.
Of course, marriages like that of the fictional Rachel and Sidney were once taboo in this country. In much of the United States, they were illegal. In fact, for generations, marriages between two black people, assuming they were slaves, brought none of the privileges or protections afforded white couples.
Mercifully, times change, and the rules of marriage have changed as well. Black people can marry each other, as can blacks and whites. Both changes faced strenuous resistance at the time – but most Americans today would surely agree that those were changes for the better.
Now comes state Rep. Jim Splaine of Portsmouth, who is sponsoring legislation legalizing gay marriage in New Hampshire. Victory will not necessarily come quickly, nor is his success assured. But as in the changes involving African-Americans’ rights to marry whom they choose, his cause is just. He has taken on a great struggle, but with luck, 10 or 20 years from now, we will wonder what all the fuss was about.
Splaine’s effort comes as states across the country are wrestling with the same issue. In Connecticut, as in Massachusetts before it, the court has declared gay marriage legal. In California, a similar ruling was overturned by voters last month via a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexuals. Florida and Arizona passed similar gay marriage bans. The votes were definitive and yet had the feel of a last stand. Most Americans have friends or family or co-workers who are openly gay; discriminating against them becomes less accepted with each passing year.
In New Hampshire, thanks to the efforts of Splaine and others, civil unions for gay couples have been legal for nearly 12 months – an enormous first step toward full equality that granted gay couples many but not all the rights of marriage. Compared with Vermont, the first state to legalize civil unions, the change came strangely, marvelously easily. Nearly 600 gay couples across New Hampshire have joined in civil unions, and life for them – and everyone else – has gone on without strife or unrest.
We’d hope that experience would temper some of the most hateful reaction to Splaine’s proposed bill. But judging from the website comments posted after Monitor reporter Lauren R. Dorgan’s recent story about the legislation, it’s still out there. Readers, largely anonymous, described not just gay marriage, but homosexuality in general with words like “vile,” “disordered,” “unnatural” and “turns my stomach.” At least one confused homosexuality with pedophilia. One writer urged gay residents to “go back into the closet.” All in all, a horrible stew of fear, resentment and anger toward folks just hoping to declare their commitment to each other.
Squeamish legislators and governors may take years to come around to Splaine’s point of view. But treating some residents as second-class citizens will always be wrong. Beginning the debate now is critical.
See Gay marriage bill begins an important debate
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