Blog of Rights

Matt Coles: Who Cares About Marriage?

By Matt Coles, Director, ACLU Center for Equality at 10:01am

Originally posted on advocate.com.

Why — some people, including a lot of gay people, ask — do LGBT people care so much about marriage? Marriage rates are down in the United States, and even further down in Western Europe. More and more people who marry once don't marry again after the first marriage ends, even if they find partners and spend the rest of their lives together.

Why are LGBT people so anxious to have something that the people who already have it don't seem to want so much anymore?

Part of the answer is that some LGBT people want to marry for the same reason lots of straight people do: committing yourself to trying (let's be honest) to build a life with someone else and having them commit to trying with you fills one of the deepest emotional needs many human beings have.

For some LGBT folks, only marriage will do because they take a pretty conventional view of commitment and relationships. That should come as no surprise; we're everywhere and that includes ideology and view of the world as well as geography.

And let's face it, for LGBT people right now, the statement you make when you marry is hardly conventional.

But for the crowds who danced on Castro Street the night of the decision, this isn't just about marriage -- maybe it isn't even mostly about marriage. The California Supreme Court understood. In what may be the most important passage in the Court's opinion, Chief Justice Ronald George wrote:

"Furthermore, in contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual's sexual orientation — like a person's race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."

Discrimination requires a rationale. The rationale for treating gay people differently has always been that we were not capable of the kind of love and commitment that straight people share.

The fight over marriage puts the truth of that rationale squarely at issue. If the love we share and the commitments we make (which, as with straight people, vary widely) are not different, there is no rationale for excluding us from marriage. More critically, there is no rationale for excluding us from jobs, from parenting, even from the prom. A person's sexual orientation, as the Court said, will not be a legitimate reason to deny a person rights.

Who cares about that? Every gay person should. Everyone who has a gay friend or family member should. Every person who cares about the Constitution's promise of equal protection should.

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