First a little background on civil unions and same-sex marriage:

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed in 1996 by then president Bill Clinton (thanks Bill). DOMA defined marriage as "the legal union between one man and one woman," and asserted that no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state. In addition, 38 states have passed their own Defense of Marriage acts.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean signed a law that would allow same-sex partners to engage in a civil union. This was a landmark, as this was the closest to marriage protection that a state in the U.S. had ever facilitated. At that time both Hawaii and California had forms of domestic partnership legislation but they fell short of the type of protections offered under the Vermont law. History had been made.

My state of Massachusetts went several steps further in a truly historic and brilliant move to legislate actual marriage rights to same-sex couples under the Massachusetts State Constitution. It was recognized in my fair state that truly equal protection for GLBTQ people can only be achieved in marriage; that civil unions do not offer enough benefits to make it equal for all. Since the passing of the law, issues have evolved around divorce of marriages formed in Massachusetts. There is a residency requirement to marry as well as to divorce in Massachusetts. Should a couple marry in Massachusetts and then move to another state and decide to divorce, the divorce is only legal if they re-establish residency in the state when seeking the divorce.

In May of 2008, California became the second state to make marriage legal for same-sex couples. The supreme court of California overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The fight will continue as same-sex marriage foes try to reintroduce Proposition 8, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban as marriage, the union between anyone other than a man and woman. Unlike Massachusetts, California has instituted no residency requirement for marriage. It is anticipated that 68 thousand out of state couples will travel to California to wed, before the ballot initiative in November.

Marriage for all is preferable to civil unions only for some. Firstly, it is not equal to allow heterosexual couples the benefits of marriage, while same-sex couples enjoy only a fraction of the rights, as dictated by their respective states. Marriage affords to its couples many federal protections that states’ civil unions are incapable of providing, in the areas of taxation, Social Security benefits, Workmen’s Comp benefits and family and medical leave protections, among others. Marriage in general also offers the right of an individual to visit an ill or injured spouse; something that is truly heartbreaking to those who cannot partake of it.

If feminism can be defined as a movement to promote the rights of women, all women, then marriage equality is most certainly a feminist issue.

Self-determination for all women includes the right to practice their sexuality in whatever form is right for them. As long as lesbian women are denied the same rights in marriage as heterosexual women, equality for all women will not be achieved. Marriage rights include health and life insurance benefits, child custody rights, and inheritance rights.

The enemies of choice and equality want to instill fear and anger among the population regarding same-sex marriage. They pander desperately to these fears that if gays and lesbians are allowed to marry, it will erode the “real” institution of marriage, which they define as being between a man and a woman only. This has at its base a religious history, of course. Marriage is between a man and a woman because the purpose of marriage is to procreate and make more Christian babies. The purpose of marriage is still, among some, a way for men to dominate women within the institution of marriage. Ironically, if taken advantage of, marriage is actually a legal protection for women. It is no small miracle that as archaic as this stance is, that women have as many protections as they have within marriage. These same protections ought to exist for all women; regardless of sexual orientation. This is one of the things, in my mind, that makes same-sex marriage a feminist issue.

The religious right-wing fail to acknowledge the already countless same-sex couples living their lives, trying to raise children. Protections of marriage would extend right to them and their children, making their family units stronger. Tell me how this in any way threatens the institution of marriage? Show me where stronger families aren’t better for society! The threat comes only from the myopic and hateful view of the rightwing conservatives themselves. They cannot adjust to society taking on values they don’t approve of because their God and their interpretation of their Bible is a way for them to keep hate, fear and discrimination alive, as if somehow it justifies their very existence.

The foes of equality are anti-women, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-child. They will stop at nothing to see that their narrow vision of a society is equal only for a select few - those that agree with them 100%.

Let’s keep same-sex marriage at the forefront of our thinking on women’s issues. Only until all women are free to express their sexuality and fully exercise their choices in regard to marriage, can we say we have achieved equality for all women.

Comment: And of course, I hope it goes without saying that equality for all people is at the core of support of same-sex marriage. The fact that I didn’t include men I hope is obvious, as I was trying to make an argument on behalf of equality in marriage for women.


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