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Kids and Community: Gay Marriage
By Judy Shepps Battle


 
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
                               William Shakespeare
                               Romeo and Juliet
 
Sometimes what is not said is just as important as that which is openly stated.
 
The recent 4-3 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court that extends all rights of marriage to gay couples -- but does not actually allow gay marriage -- falls into this category, as state lawmakers have been given the task of naming the structure that will govern these rights.

And this yet-to-be-decided name is a political hot potato.
 
The legislature has 180 days to decide whether to enter politically dangerous waters by placing these civil rights under the umbrella of "marriage," to take a slightly safer path by using "civil union" as the legal descriptor, or to create a third and more innocuous category.
 
The three dissenting Supreme Court justices are not happy with the limited nature of the ruling by their colleagues and are reportedly arguing that gay couples should be allowed to enter into a full state of marriage.
 
Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, a vocal opponent of the ruling, reportedly has vowed to have the justices impeached, saying, "Neither the framers of New Jersey's 1947 constitution nor the voters who ratified it ever remotely contemplated the possibility of same-sex marriage."
 
This potato is so hot that former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, who resigned two years ago after announcing he was gay, has publicly characterized his failure to support gay marriage while in office as due to his own fear of being "outed" (found out to be homosexual).
 
Mr. Shakespeare notwithstanding, there clearly is no public agreement on whether the rose of gay marriage would smell as sweet if called something else.
 
Nor is it clear in my eyes why gay marriage should be called something else.
 
A PHOBIC COUNTRY
The United States has a long tradition of requiring minorities to fight for the same civil rights as the dominant social group.
 
" Although the 14th Amendment, passed in 1867, recognized black males as citizens, women of all races were excluded from full citizenship with regard to voting.
 
" It took 72 years (not until August 26, 1920) to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.
 
" It took the sometimes-bloody struggles of the 1960s Civil Rights movement to allow African Americans the legal right to attend integrated schools, ride integrated busses, drink from integrated water fountains, and have the right to not be considered property.
 
In every case, after the civil rights battle has run its course, the majority of citizens eventually make peace with the new laws and norms.
 
And so it will be with the issue of gay marriage.
 
Our great-grandchildren, and their children, will look back in the history books and ask, "What was the big deal in the early 2000s about allowing two people who love each other to enter into a marriage contract?"
 
FOR OUR KIDS
Perhaps the most important reason for not forcing the rose that is known as marriage to be called by another name is that this step is for our kids.
 
It is important for the 10 percent of our youth who identify as gay, lesbian and transgendered to experience social acceptance by having the basic right to choose legal marriage. This option would go a long way to raising self-esteem in this already vulnerable teen population. 
 
For the children of gay, lesbian, and transgendered couples who are already living as partners, its important to be able to refer to their parents as being "married" and not to endure heckling because of having two moms or two dads.
 
It is important -- and the most honest thing we can do as a society -- to recognize, honor, and legitimate love as a value. This means we need to avoid creating and perpetuating the false distinctions of those who have the right to marry and those who do not.
 
And it is important to accept that sometimes, as Gertrude Stein wrote, "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."
 

Judy Shepps Battle is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at writeaction@aol.com. Additional information on this and other topics can be found at her website at http://www.writeaction.com.
 

 

 

 

Copyright 2006 Judy Shepps Battle

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