Op Ed

On Marriage and the Role of Government

Yesterday, I came across this NYT blog piece about the change in support for and opposition to marriage equality over time. And last week, a new Sienna poll was released suggesting enormous support for marriage equality across all of New York state.

a graph of support and opposition to gay marriage since 1988
CNN polling data shows that opposition to gay marriage has decreased while support has increased over time.

Right, BaseballChica03, you say; we know all of this. Generational replacement is happening as an older, intolerant group is replaced with 42 years’ worth of kids who were raised on Sesame Street and the idea that families come in all shapes and sizes. That combined with the realization that hey, almost all of us know gay people and they’re just like you and me, makes our society more tolerant over all. Yes, we know that. So, what’s your point?

The unfortunate point is that despite widespread social support for this issue, we are still faced at every turn with legal challenges and bills that don’t go anywhere, and that is incredibly sad. Not just because it means that gay and lesbian American residents are still unable to marry the ones they love, but because in my mind, that’s not how government is supposed to work.

This issue should never have taken so long to come to a head. It should have been the government blazing a trail, pushing our society forward. Civil rights should not be decided by majority rule. The majority should not ever be allowed to subjugate the rights of the minority. But it happens, and it has happened a lot in our history. At some point the government needs to step up and stop that from happening. If not the government, who will? When we integrated schools, it wasn’t because it was something that everyone wanted to do, it was because it was the right thing to do. Yes, there was a groundswell of support for the issue, but the true change in the population didn’t come until after the court cases were fought and the legislation was passed.

I will never understand how Congress and our state legislatures have let a virulent, hateful band of voices stamp out rights for such a large chunk of our population. They haven’t just failed lesbians and gays who want to get married; they have failed all of us by virtue of neglecting their duty to defend the Constitution and represent the best interests of the citizens they were elected to serve – not just the interests, but the best interests.

Our elected officials are supposed to be leaders, and yet so many of them have chosen not to lead. There are a few, the Bossmans of the world, who stand up and say, “NO. This is wrong, and we need to change it.” There are a few states who have been ahead of the public opinion curve. But the rest of them have fallen short of what we needed them to do, disregarded those who needed them the most.

Perhaps I am asking too much of my government. Despite a peek at the man behind the curtain, I still expect something from Aaron Sorkin’s back collection. But I think that it’s my role as a public servant that makes me feel this responsibility even more than I did as a cynical bystander, watching from the outside. I have said this before, but as public servants, we are supposed to serve the public. And that means everyone.

You know, when I first sat down and started writing this post, it was intended to be a discussion of changing public opinion over time. About the article I linked above that asks the question, “Is there anyone left in New York who does not support same sex marriage?” The answer to that, even in the rural areas that everyone thinks of as backward and far behind the curve, is, “Yes, but not all that many.” The questions we should be asking instead are why granting marriage equality and protecting the rights of the minority is still up for debate, and why it has taken this long.

7 replies on “On Marriage and the Role of Government”

You know, something that always irks me in this whole marriage debate is that it’s about marriage. As a single person who is extremely aware of the limitations I have by not being married (for example, not being able to have the security of a spouse’s health insurance) I do sometimes wish that this debate would talk about making couplehood and singlehood on an equal playing field in terms of legal benefits. I know one couple from some liberal European country who have never been married. They’ve raised two kids and are together for life, but they’ve never had to get married because their country doesn’t favor married couples over single people or people in non-traditional families. I sometimes wish that this entire debate just removed the concept of marriage entirely and focused on making things fair for everyone.

I certainly think that the core here is the more than 1000 rights and benefits that come with marriage. Should those things necessarily be associated with marriage? Probably not, in the long run. If you have a non-traditional family where you don’t want to or can’t for whatever reason marry, or if it’s business partners who want to share assets, or siblings caring for an ailing parents, or whatever, a lot of the legal and financial implications don’t really need to be tied to marriage.

But the fact is that they are right now, and the argument that P population of citizens does not have access to R rights by virtue of not being able to participate in I institution (separate is not equal, etc, etc) is an easier argument to make in this moment than changing the entire concept of I. This is especially true in light of the fact that the most prevalent counterargument is that “gays are trying to destroy the fabric of marriage.” If you are fighting to separate R from I, then that argument seems much more valid than silly.

That is not to say that making domestic partnerships easier shouldn’t happen in the long run, but… one thing at a time.

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