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Mitt Romney, Marriage, and Freedom

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Buried in Mitt Romney's rhetoric about jobs and the economy during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on August 30 was a line about his views on marriage. "I will honor the institution of marriage," he said.

This, of course, was code for "I don't think gay people should be able to get married." It sounds much nicer if it's said with positive rather than negative words, but it's really no better.

Romney's marriage line was out of place in a speech meant to evoke freedom, family, and economic prosperity. Not long before uttering his words on marriage, he spoke of how immigrants came to America for the "freedom to build a life." Like Romney, I agree that this overarching freedom is a great part of living in the United States. Unlike Romney, I realize that this freedom is incomplete because lesbian, gay, and bisexual people face roadblocks to building the lives they want simply because they love someone of the same sex.

The roadblocks stemming from marriage discrimination include adoption bans (only 16 states and D.C. explicitly allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt a child) and difficulties securing legal rights for a partner in the event of death or a medical emergency (and only at the expense of hiring a lawyer to create legal documents). In many cases, same-sex couples face higher taxes than their heterosexual counterparts due to not being able to file jointly and the fact that only one partner can claim each child as a dependent. Marriage discrimination can also pose a barrier to health care: consider the gay- or lesbian-headed family that, because same-sex marriage is illegal, must fork over thousands of dollars a year because one spouse's health insurance doesn't cover the other spouse, even though it would if they were heterosexual. For some same-sex couples, this may mean that one spouse has no health insurance at all.

Higher taxes and extra insurance premiums mean less money to buy a house, go on vacation, or simply put food on the table. In his speech, Romney lamented that the average family's income has fallen by $4,000 per year but seemed unconcerned that gay- and lesbian-headed families face monetary penalties because the two partners are of the same sex.

Immediately after Romney's words on marriage, he talked about preserving the freedom of religion. Perhaps that is because some religious denominations, including Romney's, see same-sex marriages as infringing upon their religious freedom by adopting a legal definition of marriage that is not in line with their teachings. Of course, no house of worship is required to perform same-sex weddings, but some do. I was raised in a synagogue belonging to Conservative Judaism, a denomination that allows same-sex weddings. Many Christian denominations, including Lutherans and Episcopals, recognize same-sex unions. What about these institutions, along with people who do not ascribe to any religion; why should their freedom of religion (or lack thereof) be eclipsed by the teachings of other religions?

Freedom isn't freedom when it only applies to some people. Freedom of speech isn't freedom if it doesn't apply to those whose political views are different from the majority. Freedom of religion isn't freedom if it's illegal to believe in multiple gods or none at all. Freedom to use a public park or sit on a public bus isn't freedom if it doesn't apply to black people. And freedom to build a life isn't freedom if the government goes out of its way to make it harder for a gay couple to build that life because both partners are attracted to someone of the same sex.

Mitt Romney says he believes marriage should be between one man and one woman. He also says he believes in freedom. I find it peculiar that he, let alone an entire political party, can hold these contradicting views. Because when freedom is only for heterosexual people, or the beliefs of certain religions, it isn't true freedom after all.

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