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The civil right of marriage equality

Posted: March 29, 2013 9:56 p.m.
Updated: April 1, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Growing up the way I did, I couldn’t help but to learn the fundamental truth that we are all human beings with the fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’ve lived in too many places, and been counted as a minority enough times, not to realize that it’s always wrong -- always -- to believe that anyone’s claims to those fundamental rights are inferior to anyone else’s.

In Kabul, Afghanistan; in Guadalajara, Mexico; and on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, I was either the wrong color, the wrong religion or both.

I finished my undergraduate degree work and undertook my graduate degree at the University of Memphis in a city that is geographically divided between whites and blacks like no other city I’ve lived in. At one point, I lived in a part of the city called Midtown -- the dividing line between the mostly black west and the mostly white east. Luckily, my work at the university’s all-jazz radio station kept me in touch with both sides of that line.

I am also hard of hearing, having been born deaf in the left ear and -- thanks to 14 years of radio work -- require a hearing aid for clarification in the right. That, technically, makes me disabled but I’ve never thought of myself that way.

I also recognize that being a white man in America means I’ve been more privileged than most of those who are neither white nor male. Am I glad of where I am in life? Of course; but I’m also saddened that, despite the gains from the civil and women’s rights movement, there is still discrimination in this country against both our non-white and female citizens. It may be illegal but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Today, the big fight is for marriage equality, the concept that homosexual men and lesbian women who choose to express their love for each other by getting married should have the same legal rights as heterosexual men and women who marry each other.

For several days last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on two marriage equality cases. One is a challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the other a challenge against California’s  Proposition 8.

DOMA restricts federal marriage benefits to heterosexual marriages, those between a man and a woman. In other words, if two men get married or two women get married -- even in states that allow such -- the federal government will not grant the same benefits it does to male-female married couples.

Proposition 8 served as an amendment to California’s state constitution limiting marriage to one-man, one-woman couples.

From what I’m gathering, Justices may be ready to throw DOMA out the door. A ruling on Prop. 8 might simply send it back to California’s courts and let that state sort it out.

As for DOMA, Tom Curry, NBC News’ national affairs writer, quoted Justice Anthony Kennedy -- considered a swing vote -- telling a lawyer supporting the law that federal regulations affecting married couples are “intertwined with the citizens’ day-to-day life, you are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.”

Or, how about Justice Ruth Ginsburg telling the same lawyer: “no joint return, no marital deduction, no Social Security benefits; your spouse is sick but can’t get leave ... one might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?”

Which, I’m sure, is exactly the question those who support DOMA and Proposition 8 are asking.

Let me answer this question for myself: it’s not my kind of marriage. I’m married to a woman. We adopted two boys. I’m not interested in men. I don’t want a man hitting on me. I’m not too keen on seeing men kiss.

But what about the black man who married the white woman? The Asian woman who married the South American man? The Christian who married the Jew? The Buddhist who married the atheist? The Republican who married the Democrat?

Who am I to say that just because a marriage between two men or between two women isn’t my kind of marriage, they shouldn’t get married and have the same benefits of that marriage that I do?

I have homosexual and lesbian friends. I have never felt threatened by them. I have never felt that my marriage was threatened simply because they existed, wanted to get married, had entered into either a civil union or, if they were so lucky, a marriage.

Back in my radio days, long before I met my wife, I was attracted to a co-worker. She was cute, spunky, funny and had a lot of other qualities I liked. I asked her out. She turned me down. She was lesbian, it turned out. Guess what? From that day on, we compared notes on girls we were interested in. It was hilarious and perfectly fine.

Why shouldn’t she get married to whatever woman she fell in love with? Why shouldn’t she enjoy the same benefits of that marriage I now do?

The fight for marriage equality -- let’s call it marriage rights -- is an extension of the civil rights movement and every movement there has ever been to secure equal rights for all in every aspect of our lives.

Being homosexual or lesbian is not a disease. If there’s no law keeping people with leprosy or cancer from getting married, then why have any law that discriminates against anyone who wants to express their love by getting married?

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