Sunday, December 7, 2003

No: Defeat ban

Gay rights no threat to marriage

By Scott Knox
Guest columnist

When Vermont allowed civil unions for same-gender couples, my friend Sue called to say, "Just wanted to let you know that my husband and I have weathered this 'attack' on traditional marriage with our vows still intact."

Her wry comment emphasized the primary fallacy in Ohio's proposed Defense of Marriage Act (H.B. 272). Gay marriage does not threaten married couples. Rather, it helps same-gender couples, the many children being raised by these couples, and, ultimately, society.

In my law practice, I work with gay couples every month who are raising kids together, either from previous relationships or via artificial insemination. They seek to make the non-biological parent equally responsible for raising the children they are co-parenting. With marriage, this would be simple. Without that option, I need to tell them that we can draw up lots of paperwork, but that the biological parent can revoke it all as soon as she leaves my office, and the non-biological parent's rights will be in the garbage.

These parents are trying to be responsible by sharing the obligations and rights of parenthood, but discriminatory marriage laws are getting in the way. That's not what laws are supposed to do.

Laws generally encourage marriage because stable couples are better for society than unstable couples. Laws denying equal rights to gay couples are at cross purposes with this societal goal. We will not have fewer gay couples by passing legislation disapproving of gay marriage. I did not "become" gay because as a child I saw society encouraging it. The only choice I made, after many years of struggling against it, was to accept who I am.

When the government passes laws making my same-gender relationship as legally difficult as possible, I am not inspired thereby to pretend to be heterosexual and marry a woman. Society therefore does not get more stable relationships by denying equal marriage rights to gay couples. It gets fewer.

Ohio's H.B. 272 would go far beyond the laws in any other state in discriminating against gay citizens. It was drafted so broadly and vaguely that it would threaten domestic partner benefits currently offered by many public and private employers in Ohio, domestic violence protections, and even legal adoptions from other states. It is so vague that the sponsors cannot tell us precisely what rights it would affect. That would only become clearer after the abundant litigation it would cause.

Laws against gay marriage give us more people who cannot be insured on their partner's policies, causing more of a financial burden on society to pay their medical bills through public benefits. These laws give us more unmarried people who, if they become disabled, cannot collect under their partner's Social Security and Medicare coverage, so we will pick up their tab, too. We also get fewer children who can benefit from child support payments - without marriage, the non-custodial, non-biological parent has no legal responsibility to support the children if the relationship ends.

Gay marriage would alleviate these problems, and should be encouraged, not despised.

The absurd slippery-slope warnings that if we allow gay couples to be treated equally, next well have polygamy! and bestiality! are scare tactics, not arguments. If there is a polygamy lobby that wants society to address their issues, we can evaluate the pros and cons; that's not this issue.

The real purpose of most of the "defense of marriage" rhetoric is to make people think of gay marriage as "us vs. them." But when we talk about gay marriage, we are talking about our sisters, sons, aunts, neighbors and friends. When we legislate to give fewer rights to "those gays," the unkindness is not to a vague "them." It hurts the lesbian sister who, with her partner, is caring for your elderly mom, the little boy being raised by your cousin and her partner, the gay couple down the street who invites their neighbor over for Thanksgiving.

Everyone loves someone who is gay, whether they know it or not. It's all "us." Passing governmental laws to make life more difficult for our family, friends and neighbors is wrong, divisive and serves no societal purpose.


Scott Knox is an attorney practicing in downtown Cincinnati, mainly in the areas of disability, gay, lesbian, transgender, and HIV legal issues.

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