Saturday, April 7, 2007

On Same-Sex Marriage

(Blog Against Theocracy, part 2)

I have always considered gay rights to be the fundamental civil rights issue of my generation. I will take any opportunity to defend those rights publicly and vocally, and have even been known to cast a ballot based on this single issue.

Some people are confused by this given that I am, for the most part, straight. I’m married, to a man (and don’t I love having to specify that!). I don’t have any close relatives who are gay, and I have lost touch with most of my gay friends from Toronto over the years since I moved to Milton. In fact, the only gay man I know here has a wife and three kids.

So what’s it to me? I don’t know. Why did a bunch of white kids from the northern U.S. care enough about blacks in the south to get themselves arrested, beaten and even killed to defend their rights? Me, I’m not that heroic. I just talk, and write.

Here’s one story I talk and write about a lot:

When I lived in Ottawa, I had a friend (I’ll call him John) who was in a committed relationship with his male partner for about 15 years. They were both relatively young, but his partner was quite obese and had been ill for some time when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died in John’s arms in the house they had shared for over a decade.

As soon as we heard the news, all of John’s friends rushed over to comfort him and do what we could to help him make the necessary arrangements. John was Mohawk Indian and a neo-Pagan, but his partner was Quaker. At the time (the mid-80s), the Quakers were among the few Christians in Ottawa who welcomed gays into their congregation.

Unfortunately, his partner’s family was not Quaker.

Less than 24 hours after his death, the family arrived. Three or four of them, mostly siblings, had driven all the way from the Toronto area and descended on the house. They barely acknowledged John’s presence as they started rooting through his partner’s belongings, even arguing over who would get his stereo and camera equipment. John politely asked them to leave. He then insisted that they leave. Then we all demanded that they leave, at which point these good, Christian people started yelling at John about how he had seduced their brother into a life of sin and fornication and that the house now belonged to his ‘real family’ and he would have to get out.

That’s when we called the cops.

Once the police arrived and established that these people were, in fact, trespassing, the family members left without further incident and without taking anything with them. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.

John knew that his partner had written a will. He just didn’t know where it was. This put him in the kind of legal limbo that most gays and lesbians are all too familiar with. Without legal status, he had no say in the funeral arrangements or the disposal of his partner’s remains. It was left to the parents, who had been estranged from their gay and sinful son for over two decades, to claim his body and ship it home for a proper Christian funeral. They even left instructions with the funeral home that my friend was not to be allowed in for the viewing or the reception.

Luckily, the funeral home director was a better Christian than his clients and let John in the back door after hours.

Two weeks later, the will had still not been found and John was beginning to panic. Even though he had contributed to the mortgage and other household expenses for years, for various reasons the house was in his partner’s name. He consulted a lawyer, but there was nothing to be done. Without a will it would all go to his partner’s parents because under the law, John had no legal standing whatsoever, not even as a tenant. He was on the verge of becoming homeless.

John’s partner did clerical work for the government, and like all government offices things moved a little slowly there. When they finally got around to cleaning out his desk, they found the missing will in a locked drawer. It left everything to John.

It could be argued, and has been argued, that gay couples can have all the benefits of marriage by writing their partners into their wills, drawing up power of attorney documents, and making other complex and often expensive legal and financial arrangements. Some couples in the U.S. have gone so far as to legally adopt their adult partner in order to have them considered ‘family’, but even this desperate measure has been challenged in the courts.

The problem is, if you listen closely to those making seemingly rational arguments about civil unions and legal benefits, it doesn’t take long to realize that their real objection is fundamentally a religious one. Sometimes they don’t even realize it, insisting it’s all about what’s ‘natural’ or ‘traditional’.

This is why it has been the courts that have lead the way on this issue. A legal argument must, by definition, be rooted in logic and a rational analysis of constitutional rights. If you can’t argue against same-sex marriage without referring to religious morality or scripture, you will lose your case. And the people making these arguments have lost, time and time again.

These are not ‘activist judges’ making these decisions - they are thoughtful, rational jurists doing their job. The only activists are those on the Right who would remove the impartiality of judges by making them beholden to politicians and special interest groups under the guise of ‘accountability’.

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