2011-03-03 / Letters to the Editor

Same-sex marriage a civil rights issue

I am compelled to dispute the assertion by William A. Kelly that it is inappropriate for state legislators to vote on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. Mr. Kelly is wrong; this is indeed a civil rights issue.

Mr. Kelly is also wrong when he states that marriage has been “a part of our culture since the beginning of time.” The practice of civil marriage goes back to Greek and Roman times, but it has evolved significantly and many civilizations have practiced what we might call “alternative” marriages. Same-sex marriage was, in fact, recognized in ancient Rome and continued into the subsequent Christian civilization. The modern religious ceremony of marriage only commenced in the 12th century; long before any of us were around, but a relatively short time in the history of human civilization.

The tone of Mr. Kelly’s letter would have you believe that it is only a few self-interested elected representatives who are trying to “push” this into law, when in fact there has been a significant movement in support of marriage equality in over the past decade, including support from the straight community.

I am sure that we all sympathize with Mr. Kelly over the tragedy his family has endured. Same-sex couples also deal with grief, joy and the gamut of life events that we all do. Short of the ability of one partner to biologically impregnate the other, which is not possible for all heterosexual couples, same-sex couples live through all the experiences that are common to marriage, including raising children.

When I was married, my wife and I and our children benefitted from well over 1,000 legal protections that are denied to same-sex couples. I do not feel that I am entitled to any special privilege just because I was born heterosexual.

Mr. Kelly may see this as an “attack on our cultural foundation,” but as society progresses and the reality is that many people – particular those of younger generations – are accepting of changes to our traditions. It was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court struck down the last anti-miscegenation law in the United States. Today, the child of a biracial couple is our president.

Had Virginia’s law prohibiting interracial marriage been decided by a popular vote rather than a court decision, it is quite possible that the people would have voted to uphold it. Would Mr. Kelly believe in that case that it would have been acceptable to prohibit people of different races from marrying?

The Obama Administration decided that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Denial of this basic right to gay people stigmatizes them and subjects them to discrimination. The history of democracy demonstrates the necessity of protection of the minority from subjugation by the majority. One example is the Bill of Rights. This is why, in a democracy, we don’t subject matters of civil rights to a majority vote.

Michael J. Larkin


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