Time to accept culture changes

Published 10:13 am Friday, March 29, 2013

This week the U.S. Supreme Court spent two days evaluating the legal standing of marriage and, in particular, marriage of same-sex couples.

Proposition 8 in California prohibited such same-sex marriages, and is now before the court to determine the constitutionality of that decision. But one possible outcome by the court may skirt that broader decision and instead decide the case on the very narrow issue of what is called “standing.”

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Standing in this case refers to the plaintiffs in the case and the problem that those plaintiffs cannot establish that they personally have been or will be subject to any adverse outcomes as a result of the case.

Without standing the court simply returns the case to the Ninth Circuit Court where the law was rejected as discriminatory. The outcome would be that same-sex marriages would be legal in California.

The other case involving same- sex marriage status may evoke a broader decision by the court. In that case the court is determining if the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1996 and signed by President Clinton, is constitutional.

Unfortunately for DOMA supporters a quote from a House Judiciary Report is making the defense more difficult.

The exact wording is: “Congress decided to ‘reflect and honor a collective moral judgment’ and to express ‘moral disapproval of homosexuality.” This blatant claim of the intent to discriminate today draws gasps of inappropriateness from listeners, reflecting a sea of social cultural change in the 17 years since the words were authored and making the intent of the law suspect to the obvious discrimination it presents.

For the most part the definition and legality of marriage has been an issue decided by individual states, but the federal government intruded upon that structure with the enactment of DOMA, which changed the basic rules across the nation for recognizing marriages from any other state. DOMA permitted states to not accept marriages from states that allow same-sex marriages.

In a practical application this makes such relationships complex at best, punitive at worst.

The fundamental problem is a couple legally married in New York state could travel to Texas, where their marriage is not recognized and find their basic rights denied in fundamental ways. If, for example, one partner was hospitalized the other could not make health care decisions or perhaps even be granted visitation rights.

On a national scale the federal government is, at least unintentionally, involved in marriage and, potentially, in discrimination by its qualifying criteria for taxation and Social Security benefits among other ramifications.

But marriage is about a great deal more than contract law, it is about social values and in many cases, religious convictions and teachings long held.

As many recent polls have indicated, popular views regarding same-sex marriage and the general acceptance of homosexuality have shifted significantly in the US over the past decade.

Today, by at least a bare majority, same-sex marriages find public approval, even though several states have voted down those marriages in recent years.

Should the court making a broad and sweeping decision, as it did in Roe V. Wade, some Americans would find themselves in a never-ending opposition to law across the land, not a decision free of longer term implications.

And for those whose convictions stem from a religious perspective such a decision, should same-sex marriages be affirmed, would create a moral conflict of lasting concern where our constitution demands a separation of church and state.

Yet, even given the complexities, can it be right ethically that 29 states permit the firing of individuals solely because of their sexuality? Can it be fair that equality before the law denies benefits based upon a social stigma of sexual preference?

A just society cannot ignore what is a most protected constitutional right, the right to equal protection under the law, regardless of your personal preferences, your skin color, your gender or your sexual relationships.

It is time to change, time to accept our brothers and sisters as they are, time to encourage any committed relationship among loving adults.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.