This past Valentines Day, the Illinois State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage, pending approval by the Illinois House of Representatives. But should same-sex couples be allowed to marry, or should the word be kept to it's tradtional definition? Our writers decide. Photos of the authors by Sunny Kang / North by Northwestern.
I’m a Medill sophomore double majoring in American history and I’ve been liberal as long as I could remember.
While growing up in the far suburbs of New York City in a devoutly Democratic family certainly has its influences, the ideas of my parents’ party have always just made sense to me, even when we’ve butted heads about just how far these ideas should be taken.
To me, it makes sense to have a government that invests in and financially protects its citizens as long as they meet their end of the bargain. It makes sense to me to have a government that guarantees not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. It makes sense to me to have a government that’s more concerned with preserving peace than projecting power.
But more than anything, I believe if politicians focused more on the good of their country and less on the good of their party, the actions that they’d take would make a lot more sense.
William Shakespeare wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet." So when it comes to the legal recognition of a same-sex relationship, why does it matter if it's called a civil union or a marriage?
The answer is actually somewhat simple: Same-sex civil unions and marriages are not the same thing, and if the Illinois State Legislature refuses to recognize this, they will be responsible for propagating a system that oppresses same-sex couples in similar ways as segregation did to racial minorities.
There are a myriad of legal and logistical differences between civil unions and marriages, all of which are complicated by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that prohibits the federal government from giving the full benefits heterosexual, married couples have to couples united by same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships.
But no less important than the legal differences are the symbolic differences between civil unions and marriages, which are rationalized by reasons that should constitutionally have no impact on the federal policy.
First, it's important to understand where the reasons for prohibiting same-sex marriages come from. The United States Constitution explicitly defers jurisdiction of civil marriage to states, which is why these state laws can't be overturned by the Supreme Court. Some of the most prominent opposition to same-sex marriage comes from religious teaching, teaching which politicians have exploited and taken out of context in order to paint same-sex unions as attacks on "family values" and "traditional marriage." Alongside it is a fear of change and reliance on tradition, all of which are abstract concepts that have no legal grounding.
Throwing aside the utter absurdity of the idea that same-sex marriage will make traditional marriage and less sacred – especially in a country with a 50 percent divorce rate – and the clear constitutional separation of church and state, there is little, albeit important, reasoning behind preventing same-sex marriages.
Same-sex marriage is an inherently divisive issue rooted deeply in conflicting ideologies, and while civil unions may seem like an easy compromise, assuming that two separate institutions are equal is not only illogical, if not necessarily unconstitutional.
In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation, ruled that "seperate but equal," the legal justification for segregation, was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under all laws for all citizens.
As mentioned before, civil marriage is a state issue, so it isn't unconstitutional for Illinois to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. But the lessons learned from Brown v. Board of Ed are still valid, if not legally binding.
Neither segregation nor the prohibition of same-sex marriage are matters that should be taken lightly or compared in severity, but both stand as unfair abuses of government power with drastic effects on the lives of innocent American citizens. Segregation was rationalized as a means of assuaging racial tensions and justified as a legal exertion of implied states' rights. Now, the preservation of traditional marriage is argued for as a means protecting a religious doctrine that should have nothing to do with the everyday lives of American citizens and is only propped up by a lack of preventative legislation.
There's no substantial legal reason why same-sex marriage should not be allowed, but there is substantial legal damage done to those couples whose futures are at stake. According to the federal government's General Accounting Office, there are more than 1,100 different rights and protections given to American citizens when they legally marry. These protections range from tax breaks to Social Security benefits, all of which are reserved only for couples who satisfy a heteronormative, discriminative standard.
The Illinois Legislature cannot repeal or undermine DOMA, but it can make a stand against one of this nation's greatest injusticies and prove that the rose only smells sweet when it's actually a rose – not a shell of a replacement.
I’m a Medill freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means.
I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.
Before embarking on a debate of such a sensitive nature, let me start by clearly explaining my ideology.
Though I am a Catholic, I do not in any way perceive homosexuality to be a sin. I firmly believe that people should be free to love whomever they choose. I have approved of many advances in gay rights over the past few years, particularly the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell two years ago.
That being said, I do not believe that the state of Illinois should change its policy with respect to same-sex unions. The state House is approaching a vote on the motion passed by the state Senate on Valentine’s Day, which would allow for legal marriages between homosexual partners.
I do not oppose this bill for ideological reasons, but rather because I believe that the current situation does not require any drastic change. As opponents of the legislation protested outside the State Capitol Wednesday, I couldn’t help but thinking that discontent does not have to occur from either side of the issue.
Illinois’ current legal approach to gay marriage is quite satisfactory. Per an act passed in June 2011, same-sex couples are legally permitted to enter into ‘civil unions.’ These offer Illinois residents all the same legal protections and benefits as marriage, even permitting divorce should the need occur. The act creates a virtually identical situation, short of actually calling it marriage.
So why then must this divisive debate shake up the state? Illinois currently affords all the same benefits of marriage to those that enter into civil unions. The only point of contention is over the actual word itself, and I find that this is an unnecessary conflict.
I personally believe that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, per my Catholic faith. I realize that many Americans do not share my belief, and they are certainly entitled to think that way. I also have no issues whatsoever with the current civil union law, as same-sex couples should be entitled to equal legal protection.
However, no matter what the law says, there will always be a difference on some level between heterosexual and homosexual couples. A male-male or female-female partnership is simply not identical to a male-female partnership. This is not intended in any way as a discriminatory remark, merely an objective assessment of the scenario.
I liken this situation to the adoption process. When a family adopts a child, they assume full legal parental status for them. As the relationship develops over the years, the parents often (and rightly so) refer to the child as their own. Nonetheless, there is an unspoken understanding that a biological son or daughter is not identical to one that is adopted. This does not mean that the parents love that child any less. They are still able to provide the best parental care they can, and the law treats them perfectly equally.
An adopted child in a loving family is treated as equally as any other child from a societal standpoint. This is how I ideally view the future of gay rights. Though differences will always be present, couples that truly love each other should be treated with society’s full respect. It is true that many paradigms need to shift, but that is a job for time and not for legislation.
I see no reason why this goal cannot be achieved with the current systems in place. I am all for same-sex couples being granted the benefits of a legal union. The Illinois civil union law perfectly captures the spirit of the situation, by understanding the inherent difference and making everything else exactly the same.
Instead of sparking this fiery debate between supporters and opponents of the proposed legislation, the state should realize that it has already handled the situation as impartially as it can. On the state level, same-sex couples are not discriminated against in any way, and I believe that no further nuptial law is required. The argument over the linguistics of the situation should be shelved, and other states can use Illinois’ current system as a model for recognizing gay rights without offending as many religious conservatives.