More Rights for Gays—Times Are A-Changing
Star, July 7, 2003
PO Box 81609, Lincoln, NE 68501-1609
By Leon Satterfield
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
- The Canadian cabinet voted to legalize same-sex marriages—not 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, the 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 think homosexual sex between
consenting adults should be legal.
It was the Supreme Court decision that produced the most moral 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 opposite-sex couples.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is so alarmed that he’s been talking up
a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw same-sex
You know, the sort of thing nationwide that Nebraska did statewide back in
2000 when we passed LB416, 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 marriages 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 same-sex marriage?
For some reason, I’m reminded of H.L. Mencken’s definition of
Puritanism: “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” But
if there are lots of people out there (DOMA passed by more 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 terminology.
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 that?
I don’t imagine many gays would find “unlimited partnership” 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.”
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 rights—that sort of
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 discrimination.
So what we have to do is make sure unlimited partnerships get the same
benefits 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. And imagine 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 bloody murder.
- 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 can go.
- Our spouse is foreign-born and not allowed to share our U.S.
citizenship—with all that implies—because 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 life, 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
address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.