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Unmarried and Unequal

By Adam P. Schneider

For millions of Americans, the mention of marriage conjures imagery of an elegant ceremony in which a beautiful bride glides down an aisle, past her family and friends, to take the hand of her new groom. But for millions of other Americans, the mention of marriage serves as another painful reminder of how closed-minded and intolerant our society remains in the face of discrimination against those whose wedding dreams include two soul-mates of the same gender. And now this persistent and pervasive intolerance is not reserved for those small pockets of reactionaries in remote portions of our country, but rather has extended over the threshold of the White House.

By presidential proclamation, President Bush has declared this week to be the first-ever official Marriage Protection Week, an entire week dedicated to upholding the social norm that marriage is a union solely between a man and a woman. An alliance between the White House and the religious right-wing is charged with executing this new national celebration in a display that seems to result in a demonization of the bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender (BGLT) community and our struggle for equality.

Marriage as an institution has its proponents and its critics, but this entire week dedicated to the “sacred institution” has little to do with Bush’s desire to “help parents build stronger families” and much more to do with his agenda to gain popular support for the abhorrent Federal Marriage Amendment. The amendment, co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, attempts to preempt the decision of Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The plaintiffs in Goodridge are seven Massachusetts gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage licenses, denied to them at their local city or town halls. The Federal Marriage Amendment would make it clear that the BGLT people have no legal basis on which to argue for equal access to the institution of marriage.

The institution of marriage provides over 1,000 rights to couples, including everything from health care benefits to estate considerations. Same-sex couples are denied the right to make decisions on a partner’s behalf in cases of medical emergencies, the right to care for a partner who is seriously ill while maintaining career benefits, the right hold property equally and the right to family-related Social security benefits, tax benefits, and other important privileges. By denying equal access to the institution of marriage, the government discriminates against BGLT people and denies them benefits afforded without question to heterosexual individuals.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, contends that “weakening the legal status of marriage” by allowing same-sex couples to marry leads to “many serious social problems” including the “disintegration of family.” Hatch’s homophobic statements link homosexuality to ominous societal deviance without evidence or elaboration.

Marriage Protection Week asserts the superiority of heterosexual married unions over all other forms of love and all other kinds of families. Bush’s own proclamation reeks of this hypocrisy. “We must continue our work to create a compassionate, welcoming society, where all people are treated with dignity and respect.” Yet, this same society is one where BGLT people are treated as second-class citizens, denied access to the institution of marriage.

The concept of needing an entire week to shield marriage from the ring-fingers of homosexuals is appalling. Ultimately, the issue isn’t about marriage, it’s about vindication. The Supreme Court overturning of the “sodomy laws” in Lawrence v. Texas enraged Bush and his supporters, especially those among the religious right. They are determined to ostracize and subjugate a minority who threatens their distorted views of morality. Now that the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act is appropriately being called into question, Bush and his supporters have increased their efforts to restrict the definition of marriage. Thus, the Federal Marriage Amendment seeks to provide for them a decisive solution. And what better way to promote its legitimacy than to dedicate an entire week to a discriminatory and exclusive view of the institution of marriage.

Marriage Protection Week is a well-calculated aversion to the multitude of problems facing the Bush administration. Using the BGLT community as a scapegoat detracts the American public from issues such as the depressing economy and problems with post-war Iraqi development campaigns. By laying blame, the Bush administration can carefully maintain its popular support for the upcoming 2004 presidential elections, while marginalizing the BGLT community.

With the impending announcement of the Goodridge ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, it is paramount, now more than ever before, that the Harvard community take action to protest the discriminatory actions of the federal government. Bush’s official proclamation has defined Marriage Protection Week as an annual celebration. Instead of observing the anniversary of this proclamation of discrimination next October, we should work towards a more enlightened goal—one that would be filled with joy—the first same-sex marriage.

Adam P. Schneider ’07 lives in Grays Hall and is public relations chair of the Harvard Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance.

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