News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

May 24, 2008

THOMAS L. STEIGER: America solidly divided on issue of gay marriage

TERRE HAUTE — Finally, gay rights advocates and conservative and religious groups have something in common: a week both could describe as “the best of times, the worst of times.”

On May 7, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled “that the state’s ban on gay marriage makes it illegal for public universities and other entities of state government to provide domestic partner benefits to the partners of gay employees.” Stung/elated from that ruling, a week later, the California Supreme Court “struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage … in a broadly worded decision that would invalidate virtually any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Conservative and religious-affiliated groups denounced the decision and pledged to bring enough voters to the polls in November to overturn it. Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, called the decision “outrageous” and “nonsense.” Staver continues: “No matter how you stretch California’s Constitution, you cannot find anywhere in its text, its history or tradition that now, after so many years, it magically protects what most societies condemn.” (Strange that a group with “Liberty” in its name denounces a ruling that increases personal liberty.)

Those displeased with the Michigan ruling sounded similar themes starting with the dissenting justices: Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanagh wrote, “it is a perversion of the amendment’s language to conclude that, by voluntarily offering the benefits at issue, a public employer recognizes a union similar to marriage.”

These contradictory rulings might suggest a deepening division in the country over the issue of “gay marriage” in particular and the civil rights of gays and lesbians in general. Is this another wedge issue for the United States similar to the way abortion has been for several decades?

I raise the example of abortion because, in many ways, pro-life activists stem from similar groups as do activists defending marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Surveys of public opinion, however, suggest that the status quo for abortion is likely to continue while the status quo for gay rights is likely to move toward greater acceptance and reduction in status discrimination.

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