Last week, a lobbyist for Evangelical churches gave a presentation in one of Newton's lecture halls, beginning by filling the audience with anecdotes as to why he decided to become a lobbyist and ending with his ardent defense of his religion's stance against equal rights for the gay and lesbian community.
After attending a vigil before the lecture in support of that community and then listening to his well-rehearsed speech, I began to consider a topic that has recently been making headlines in Maine: gay marriage.
The gay marriage bill in Maine was defeated, but the narrow margin by which this occurred proved two things. First, a large number of Americans are in support of this action. Second, the number in need of convincing is dwindling.
With this known, those sharing the opinions of our lobbyist friend are becoming a minority; they are no longer the ones keeping these bills from passing. Instead, a large reason this bill and many others like it have not passed is because of groups - Democrat and Republican alike - that believe in gay rights but instead are in support not of gay marriage, but of civil unions. This begs the question, "If civil unions could be passed more easily, then why argue for marriage at all? Why not take this 'separate but equal' offering and call it good?"
First off, as it stands, civil unions do not even meet "separate but equal" standards. There are over 1,000 legal benefits to marriage licenses. Many are shared by civil unions, but far from all. For example, the civil unions created in 2000 in Vermont do not extend beyond the Vermont border.
But what about the contingent that agrees to pass legislation to make civil unions more equal, to give homosexual couples marriage rights as long as the institution is not called "marriage?" The fact is that passing a gay marriage bill will not take away what heterosexual couples have. A majority of those with such a view see marriage as a sacred, religious definition and the government cannot change that. No religion can be forced to recognize gay marriages.
As far as a religious group is concerned, marriage can still be defined as being between a man and a woman, and they can declare the government-issued licenses illegitimate within their religion. They can still have their definition, still have their "something different." I'm sure many of them would see the church's stance as more personally important anyway.
It is often true that opposing side should meet in the middle, that compromises should be made from both sides to find a mutually acceptable plot of common ground. This is not such a case. Civil unions as they stand are inherently unequal. Making them more equal but keeping the name "civil union" undercuts the claim that both heterosexuals and homosexuals are deserving of the exact same freedoms.
Face it: you can still get to where you want to go while sitting in the back of the bus just as easily as in the front, but there is still something second-class behind the connotation of having to sit in the back. There is still something second-class about being relegated to a civil union.
Chris Larrabee is a junior biology major who thinks that homosexuals should be allowed to get married and be just as miserable as every other married couple in the world.