This letter was sent in response to negative letters about marriage equality and published today in the Andalusia Star News.
Residents, former residents, support position
There have been several letters to the editor recently responding negatively to your editorial on marriage equality. This letter is in response to those letters.
Marriage is a civil license issued by state governments. According to the GAO, marriage conveys more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits. State benefits are also affected by marriage, including the right to visit a spouse in a hospital and the right to make medical decisions for the spouse when the spouse is unable to do so.
Under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states cannot deny equal protection under the law to its citizens unless the law has a rational basis. In Perry v. Brown, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals examined the reasons why gay couples might be disfavored under marriage laws but found no rational basis for the discrimination. Two justifications were offered for denying gays the right to marry. The first was the states’ interest in procreation, that marriage should be reserved to couples capable of having children. This justification failed as states issue marriage licenses to straight couples unable to bear children or who do not intend to have children. The second justification, that children are best raised in a family with 2 parents of opposite sexes, also was found lacking in merit. Empirical data does not support this proposition as children raised by two moms or two dads do just as well as children raised by a mom and a dad.
All of the critics of your editorial have based their positions on the Bible. Christianity is not our state religion and the tenets of the various Christian sects should not be used as a litmus test for our public policy.
With that said, Christians themselves are in disagreement as to how the Bible should be interpreted and even who wrote it. Fundamentalist Christian sects do not comprise the entire universe of Christianity. There are a number of Christian denominations that approve of same sex marriage and have rituals for gay marriages and civil unions. Everyone is free to have their own religious views, but they do not have the right to impose those views on our society through enactment of discriminatory laws, even if they are a majority of the population.
A common theme in the letters was that there are immutable, absolute laws. In history, this rigid belief system led us down the path of intolerance and tyranny. Enlightenment from human experience has led us to understand that rules that were once considered normative may over time no longer serve our social and cultural needs. If laws could never change, women would be the chattel property of men, and marriages between the races would be outlawed.
The letters also made a false analogy. They contend if gays are allowed to marry, people will be allowed to marry animals. This is like saying that if we allow people to eat steak, then cannibalism is allowed. This thinking disregards the limiting principle of facts. When deciding on a rule that will be determinative of a particular issue, facts and social interests specific to that issue should shape the outcome, not some general rule divorced from reality.
The undersigned, current and former residents of Covington County, applaud your courage in bringing this controversial subject to the editorial page of your newspaper. Hopefully it will begin a dialogue that brings understanding as to why the benefits of marriage should be granted equally to gays and straights.
Teresa B. Tolbert
(and scores of other signers)