In my political debate class last year, we all had to engage in one debate with a classmate, and the issue I chose (predictably) was gay marriage. My opponent wasn't against gay marriage per se, but instead believed that marriage should be solely a religious institution and that the government should only provide civil unions, both to straight and gay couples. It was quite a different debate from what we're used to seeing on this issue, and I think it was very interesting. I decided to post my opening statement for those interested in seeing exactly why marriage equality is so important, at least in my own terms.
On October 11th of this year, I had the opportunity to join tens of thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and our straight allies here in DC for our very own March on Washington. It was the National Equality March. On that day, we marched to demonstrate against the injustices facing the LGBT community.
We marched to show that we have had enough of the discrimination by our state and federal governments.
We marched to honor those like Harvey Milk and Del Martin, who dedicated their entire lives to advancing equal rights for the LGBT community.
We marched for Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., two teenage boys who were brutally murdered because of their sexuality.
We marched for the next generation of activists, so that children can know that it is okay to be different, that it is okay to be proud of who you are, and that it is okay to stand up for yourself in the face of adversity.
We marched for full equality, and we will fight for full equality, because we deserve full equality - everyone in this nation does.
But what we didn't march for, was second best. We didn't march for close but no cigar. And we didn't march for civil unions - and that's what you're getting with civil unions, you're getting second best. If we in America truly believe in equality, then we need to allow all couples to enter into civil marriages for three important reasons.
The first reason is, civil unions are an equal rights disaster. To quote the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, written in 1868, "No state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The fourteenth amendment has many times come to the aid of those whose rights have been infringed upon. To have separate institutions for different types of couples is to violate the Equal Protection Clause of our Constitution.
The second reason is, civil unions give couples fewer rights than civil marriages. My opponent believes that all couples, gay or straight, should enter into civil unions, and that marriage should be a solely religious institution. While I believe that my opponent's intentions are good, what she's leaving out is the fact that civil unions do not have the same rights that civil marriages have. In fact, the General Accounting Office revealed in its Defense of Marriage Act report in 2004 that there are over one thousand legal benefits and protections that married couples receive, which couples entering into a civil union will never see. This includes Social Security benefits for widowers, sick leave, tax and insurance breaks, veterans' benefits, and many more. Due to this disparity in legal protections, it makes no sense to grant civil unions to all couples in the stead of civil marriages.
The third reason is, we need to keep the Church and State separate. Former President Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1807, "our legislature should build a wall of separation between Church and State." Jefferson had it right: one person's religious views should not dictate another person's civil rights, and our government should not bend to the will of these religious institutions which do not even pay taxes. My opponent would allow religious institutions to take priority over giving all couples the same legal rights that civil marriages grant. In my home state of Connecticut, which has supported marriage equality since last year, religions that do not like the concept of marriage equality are not obligated to perform gay marriages, but gay couples are still free to get married, either through other religious sects or by common law. This is the right solution, this is the solution for America, and this is the solution that we in the George Washington University community need to support.
The bottom line is this: civil unions are not civil marriage. Civil unions are not civil marriage when our government violates the Fourteenth Amendment to grant different couples different marital statuses. Civil unions are not civil marriage when married couples receive over a thousand different benefits that civil unions do not get. Civil unions are not civil marriage when religious institutions are allowed to dictate our national policy. Civil unions are not civil marriage, and I hope that I can convince you today that the GW community needs to lead on the issue of granting marriage equality for all. Thank you.
Click here to see my closing statement.
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