Marriage Equality: A Cause and Conversation That Won't (and Shouldn't) Stop

In the last several weeks, there were a few strong reminders that discussion about ending gay people's exclusion from marriage will not just disappear. Just last week, the California legislature passed a bill for the second time, picking up votes, to remove the different-sex restriction on couples seeking to marry. Right before Labor Day, in a valentine from the heartland, a trial court judge found no legitimate government purpose in denying same-sex couples marriage, and struck the exclusion down - in Iowa.

With a Republican audience actually booing a candidate's anti-gay position when the marriage question came up in a party debate in New Hampshire, and a marriage case coming out right in Iowa, the epicenters of presidential politics are providing further evidence that people want to see the candidates address this civil rights question with authenticity, coherence, and principle.

As the Harkin Steak Fry approaches this weekend on September 16th with most of the Democratic presidential candidates scheduled to attend, and as even Republican candidates earn rebukes for their knee-jerk criticisms of a respected Iowa judge doing his job, those of us not running for president should help candidates get better by talking about why marriage matters and who gay families are, thereby creating space for them to rise to fairness. Wishing that others would just shut up is not a strategy; it's denial. Trust me; I know.

In order to assist candidates and those working with them, Freedom to Marry has just released the Candidates' Guide on How to Support Marriage Equality and Get Elected.

The Guide states:

"No candidate for office will be able to ignore the national conversation about fairness for all families. Candidates who understandably want to spend more time talking about other weighty campaign concerns ought to explain simply and definitively that they are for equality in marriage because marriage matters and equality is right for all Americans. Most people will respect their position and a personal story even if they do not fully agree, and candidates can move on to the questions that will determine most people's vote."

The highly readable, solid, and persuasive decision by Judge Hanson in the Iowa case brought by Lambda Legal offers a very clear picture of why marriage matters. The reactions of Iowans underscored that ending marriage discrimination is first and foremost about real people, and real love; one of the first people to register for a marriage license, David Rethmeier, said, "I started to cry because we so badly want to be able to be protected if something happens to one of us."

Marriage is a precious right

Both the Iowa Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court have recognized that the right to marry is a fundamental right...[P]rotections "should not ultimately hinge upon whether the right sought to be recognized has been historically afforded. Our constitution is not merely tied to tradition, but recognizes the changing nature of society." Iowa Courts have generally been at the forefront in preserving the civil rights of their citizens in areas such as race, gender and sexual orientation.

Denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry harms families

Attempting to enumerate the myriad tangible and intangible harms same-sex couples and their families experience when denied marriage, the decision devotes six pages to describing 22 specific injuries same-sex couples experience every day: in child care and custody issues, inheritance, health care, property rights, and numerous daily events and exchanges that are affected by marriage or its absence.

The word 'marriage' itself is crucially important

As Pride Source pointed out,

The institution of marriage, Hanson wrote, is "so woven into the fabric of daily life and so determinative of legal rights and status" that denial of a marriage license "amounts to a badge of inferiority" imposed on gay couples and their children.

We are more than a year away from election 2008. As courts continue to rule, legislatures vote, and people who care about equality speak up and take action, our representatives looking for support in the presidential election must answer, not evade. Those who favor fairness and are busy now counseling or working for candidates should spend the next 14 months helping change happen, rather than arguing with the likes of me about why it can't.