Monday, October 30, 2006

Marriage Equality: Not a wedge issue

Republicans have used "marriage" as an issue to stir up voters for years. Conservative pundits sow terror into an easily swayed electorate by railing against the "homosexual agenda" and how the GLBT community threatens to destroy "traditional marriage." This hurtful rhetoric stirs up voters and causes vicious, bigoted legislation to be written into state constitutions, denying an entire class of people the rights and privileges enjoyed by the rest of society.

Progressives haven't found a cohesive counter-argument to this hateful ideology, and have largely resorted to pushing the issue aside as a "wedge issue," one that is used to "distract voters" from the "real issues" such as health care, social security and education. While the other issues are critical, and must be addressed, the issue of marriage equality is hardly a wedge issue to those of us being wedged by it.

Those of us being wedged are finding ourselves alienated on all sides. One side demands that we remain second-class citizens, denied the rights and benefits afforded to everyone else, and attacks our character, accusing us, without any shred of evidence, of harboring nefarious intentions to destroy a "sacred institution." The other side belittles our cause and shoves us aside, because of our tendency to "frighten" persuadable voters. And in the middle, a strange chorus speaks up and asks us to accept a "separate but equal" regime of "civil unions" that gives us "some" rights of marriage, but not all.

Progressives should be embracing the cause of full marriage equality, and championing it as the next great civil rights battle. The very phrase, "marriage equality," is the perfect progressive antidote to the Republican "family values" sound byte. "Marriage equality" has the added benefit of meaning something concrete, coherent, and morally correct, unlike the nebulous and politically motivated meanings behind "family values."

As most intelligent, thoughtful people realize, same-sex couples, like myself and my partner, have neither the interest in nor the ability to have any effect whatsoever on heterosexual marriages, for good or for evil. We're just not that powerful. All we want is what heterosexual couples already enjoy: the rights and privileges inherent in civil marriage. We don't have any interest in forcing any religious institution to recognize our marriages. All we want is civil marriage.

I want the ability to inherit from my partner. I want to file my taxes as a married couple. I want to visit my partner in the hospital without any question as to my relationship with him. I want the ability to adopt children with my partner. I want to have the option of sharing my partner's health insurance. I want my partner and I to be able to own a house jointly as a couple.

These are not wedge issues, to be shoved aside as "politically imprudent" by otherwise progressive candidates in politically difficult districts. To me, these issues are central to my life. These issues define how my partner and I are allowed to live our lives together. If you're a heterosexual married couple, think about how you would feel if you had to fight for the right to, for instance, give your husband the ability to make decisions for you in the hospital if you're incapacitated. How would you feel if you knew there was a possibility that after you die, your husband could be cut out of your will by bigoted parents, and the state couldn't do anything about it because your marriage wasn't legally recognized?

These are not wedge issues. Marriage equality should be at the forefront of every true progressive's political agenda. There are people in America are not able to enjoy the rights and privileges to which they should be entitled. That is morally reprehensible, and we should not stand for it. Forget red and blue states. Forget political expediency. Forget all of that, and realize that the cause of marriage equality is a great, if not the great moral issue of our time. And unlike the false monsters put up by the Republicans, this moral issue actually does matter.

I don't want to wake up next Wednesday to find my partner and I denied access to another group of states, because the right-wingers scapegoated us and the progressives abandoned us. I want the issue of marriage equality to be front and center in this election, and in all future elections, until all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, are given full equality in the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.

To me, that is not a wedge issue.