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Equal Rights Under the Law

An amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage would be a hateful attack on gay rights

By The CRIMSON Staff

Recent efforts by social conservatives to amend the Constitution to prohibit gay marriage are deplorable and discriminatory. Such an amendment would undermine the fundamental notions of equality and freedom on which our country was founded and would mark a significant setback in the progress that gay people—and other traditionally oppressed groups—have made toward equality. It would offer no practical benefits to anyone and is an egregious, offensive intrusion into the lives of citizens who wish only to enjoy the same rights as everyone else. If there is to be a constitutional amendment regarding gay marriage, it should preserve, rather than abolish, the right of same-sex couples to equal treatment under the law.

The right to marry is not a state issue. Though some states would prefer to have power over the issue of gay marriage, jurisdiction belongs in the hands of the federal government. Federal legislation is needed to protect gay marriage and to require states to honor the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution with respect to gay couples. Such legislation would have important economic and symbolic ramifications for the gay community as a whole. It would help protect and promote the freedoms to which homosexuals, like all Americans, are entitled.

While the question of gay marriage is still controversial, it bears many similarities to the legal disputes over interracial marriage that raged less than 40 years ago. Today, few would dispute the right of interracial couples to marry, and many of the arguments that brought such marriages wide acceptance also apply to gays. When interracial marriage was controversial, it was social conservatives who opposed the idea, again citing traditional values as the major grounds for opposition. But the understanding that interracial couples could legitimately fall in love and raise healthy, prosperous families eventually overcame the distaste caused by such values. The same thing should happen in the current controversy over gay marriage.

The recent case of Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court overturned a Texas law that banned sodomy, was a step in the right direction toward equality for gays. It set a strong precedent upholding every citizen’s right to privacy. Belgium, which recently legalized gay marriage, and Canada, where gay marriage is legal in some areas and may soon become legal nationwide, also offer fine examples of the way same-sex couples should be treated.

Despite such progress, President Bush recently made remarks defining marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman. He diplomatically noted, however, that he was “mindful that we’re all sinners.” Other supporters of the ban have not been so evasive. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has equated homosexuality with prostitution and drug abuse, while Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., has compared it to bestiality and polygamy.

In the face of characterizations like these, we should remind ourselves that neither gay marriage nor homosexuality hurts anyone. They are independent, private choices that pose a threat only to a set of rigid values which disregard basic freedoms and principles, including equality, tolerance and privacy.

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