Saturday, December 20, 2008
Gay Marriage Matters
Why the Marriage Amendment Mattered
By Norm Kent
In 1997, the Florida legislature enacted Florida Statute 741.212, which banned marriages between persons of the same sex. Section 3 of that law even reads that for the purposes of interpreting the statute, ‘marriage’ would mean only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.
With that law in effect, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was clearly redundant and unnecessary. So why did they do it? Because your enemies do not just want you down and out. They want to stomp on your throat.
On its face, the Protection of Marriage Amendment simply prohibits same-sex marriages. The breadth of this amendment could be much worrisome though. You see, the people who brought you this amendment falsely advertised that it would only ratify existing law. Their past suggests that is not all they had in mind. Here is the story behind the story.
The strongest backers of the amendment included anti gay groups like the ‘Liberty Counsel.’ The liberties they support are their own, not yours. These are the groups and organizations that supported state statutes making consensual gay sex criminal.
They are the people who oppose passage of domestic partnership ordinances, and fought against health and employee benefits for same sex partners and their children. They are the same vampires who are still fighting in Florida against allowing qualified gay people from adopting. Okay, maybe I am being unfair to vampires.
What does this mean, then? It means ‘they’ are not done; they are just beginning. They will use this amendment as a legal sword to go into court and challenge the progress we have made. ‘They’ are coming to a neighborhood near you and bringing a bank of lawyers.
The ‘Liberty Counsel’ and its friends will now sue Broward County and argue that the new amendment has rendered the county’s domestic partnership benefits ordinance illegal. They will challenge the city of Wilton Manors for extending employment benefits for gay couples. They will argue that their tax dollars cannot be used to provide same sex benefits in Miami Beach.
In those states and places where these issues have already been voted on and approved, like Michigan and Ohio, this is what ‘they’ have done. They are never satisfied with just getting an amendment passed. They then want to use that law as a vehicle to ‘stomp on your throat.’
For example, in Ann Arbor, conservative groups have already sued the school board demanding that it repeal a same-sex benefits provision for its teachers. A state senator in Ohio has already introduced legislation demanding that state universities cease at once from providing its gay employees same sex benefits.
The goal of your enemies who backed this amendment was to be able to go to court and argue that governments which continue to provide benefits packages for same sex partners are treating those unions as the equivalent of marriages. Therefore, they initiate legal actions demanding the programs cease because they now violate the new constitutional amendment.
The passing of this amendment in Florida means that civil rights lawyers as well as city and county attorneys are going to have to defend the human rights ordinances which have already been passed. There is a twist there for us though. The very cities we had to cajole for decades to pass human rights ordinances will now have to hire lawyers to defend the constitutionality of them. This time, they will be on our side.
Gays and lesbians have won many civil rights over the past decade. Those laws will now be tested by the passage of this repressive constitutional amendment. Fortunately, the gay and lesbian community is protected by a legal network of competent lawyers, from the ACLU to Lambda Legal. Ultimately, we will prevail, despite the marriage ‘protection’ amendment. But we are going to have to fight again. That should come as no surprise to anyone. Liberty is an ongoing struggle.
As we go forward, the minimal differences between competing organizations fighting for the same civil rights will be inconsequential. There is no blame game anymore. Whether you worked for Fairness for Families or the Red and Blue team, it just doesn’t matter. We are all in this together.
Abraham Lincoln emancipated slaves in the nineteenth century. One hundred years later, in the twentieth century, Lyndon Baines Johnson had to sign a Civil Rights Act to insure the freedoms of Negro Americans would not be violated by sheriffs with water hoses keeping them from the voting booth. In the twenty-first century, America elected an African-American to its highest office. Our time will come too. It will just take more time to get there.
Just as we wonder how there ever was an America which treated African Americans as three fifths of a citizen, or denied women the right to vote, years from now future generations will be astonished that gays and lesbians endured so many legal abuses. We can stand fast though, because we are on the right side of history, and the Neanderthals who oppose us are doomed to failure.
A nationally known writer, criminal defense and constitutional rights attorney with offices based in Fort Lauderdale, Norm Kent founded the Express Gay News in 1999.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org