It's been an alarming month for homophobes. In the past 30
days they've had to witness the following outrages:
Episcopalians in the New Hampshire diocese elected an openly
gay clergyman as their bishop. He told the delegates who'd voted for
him that they should be "kind and sensitive and gentle" to those who
"will not understand what you've done today."
Wal-Mart, which employs more people than any other private
enterprise in the country, decided its anti-discrimination policy
applies to gay and lesbian employees.
The Canadian cabinet voted to legalize same-sex
marriagesnot just for Canadians but for any Americans who take a trip
north to get married.
And on June 26, a day that will live in homophobe infamy,
U.S. Supreme Court decided by a 6-3 majority that a Texas law forbidding
gay sex was unconstitutional. Get this: 4 of the 6 in the majority
were appointed by Republican presidents. And then get this: Newsweek
reports that polls show 60 percent of Americans believe homosexual sex
between consenting adults should be legal.
It was the Supreme Court decision that produced the most
indignation. In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said "the court has
largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda." Whatever that
is. And he said the ruling threatens "state laws limiting marriage to
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is so alarmed that he's
talking up a proposed amendment to the U.S. constitution that would
outlaw same-sex marriage. You know, the sort of thing nation-wide that
Nebraska did state-wide back in 2000 when we passed LB 416, otherwise
known as DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act).
To which the most elegant rejoinder was the bumper sticker
that said "Our marriage doesn't need defending. Sorry about yours."
I've never quite understood the notion that same-sex
somehow threaten straight marriages. I'm not sure I want to understand
it. Could it possibly mean that lots of closet gays are in straight
marriages and had they been given the choice, they might have chosen a
For some reason, I'm reminded of H. L. Mencken's definition
Puritanism: "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."
But if there are lots of people out there (DOMA passed by
than a 70-30 landslide) who feel their straight marriages are endangered
by same-sex marriages, then maybe the right thing to do is to change the
Let's not call same-sex unions "marriages." Let's call them
something else. How about "unlimited partnerships"? That"s got a
respectably commercial sound to it, doesn't it? Who could oppose
I don't imagine many gays would find "unlimited
any clunkier to the ear than "same-sex marriage"which suggests an
apology of sorts for being different from the other 90 percent of us.
"Unlimited partnership," on the other hand, suggests going beyond
something as conventional as "marriage."
The Truth, Mainly
Yes, you should be saying, but if we don't call their
relationship a marriage of some kind, they might not be eligible for the
marriage benefits straight folks get. Tax breaks, insurance benefits,
spousal visitation rightsthat sort of thing.
And you'd be right. Calling them unlimited partnerships
instead of same-sex marriages ought to diminish the pressure to pass
Defense of Marriage Acts, but it might also open the door for even more
So what we have to do is make sure that unlimited
get the same benefits that are bestowed on heterosexual marriages.
And here's a simple way for us heterosexuals to sensitize
ourselves to the need for equality: just imagine we're 10 percent of
the population and those in unlimited partnerships are 90 percent.
imagine that they might want to treat us as shabbily as we've treated
them. How would we react?
A landlord tells us, "Sorry, but we don't rent to
heterosexual couples; it makes our other tenants nervous." We scream
Our hellfire-and-brimstone preacher tells us he's sorry, but
all of us in heterosexual marriages are going to hell because we're
abominations in the eyes of God. And then he tells us that, if we try
really hard, we can change our sexual orientation. We tell him where he
Our spouse is foreign born and not allowed to share our U.S.
citizenshipwith all that impliesbecause we're in a heterosexual
marriage instead of an unlimited partnership. We get very cranky.
And so forth. You get the point. But let me say it again:
If calling them same-sex marriages is the problem, let's give
them another name. But let's make sure our laws apply equally to
heterosexual marriages and homosexual unlimited partnerships.
You know, in the name of equal and unalienable rights to
liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all that Fourth of July stuff.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail