Changing views on marriage

Today, Jean and Prentice discuss rapid shifts in public opinion. Yesterday, they debated the campaign for a marriage amendment to the California state Constitution. Later this week, they'll debate social-benefit claims, religious freedom and more.

The arc of justice By Lorri L. Jean

I like today's question a lot because it draws attention to a fact that you and organizations like yours hate to admit: Gay people are winning the battle for public acceptance and support. The tide of public opinion has turned, and the vast majority of Americans believe that gay and lesbian people should be treated fairly. Ultimately, we have the momentum even on the question of the freedom to marry. Thirty years ago, for example, opponents of the freedom to marry in our state outnumbered supporters 2 to 1. Today, according to the most recent California Field Poll, Californians are more evenly split on this issue. This represents enormous progress.

The good news for us is that most Americans are genuinely fair-minded. They generally believe that all people should be treated fairly, even if they have different beliefs. In fact, the American public has moved further and faster on gay issues over the last 15 years than on almost any other social issue. Why? The answer is incredibly simple. It's because they have gotten to know us.

More straight folks know an openly gay or lesbian person than ever before. As a result, they've gotten past the stereotypes and see us as real people, not abstractions. In so doing, they have come to understand the somewhat mundane reality: Gay and lesbian people are pretty much like everybody else. We form committed unions and raise families and contribute to our society and have the same needs and hopes as other families. We want to live our lives in peace. We want our other halves and our kids to be healthy and happy and safe. And we want the same rights enjoyed by our straight brothers and sisters. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is the context in which greater numbers of people are becoming supportive of allowing same-sex couples to marry. Increasingly, people are coming to understand that excluding us from marriage — an important set of rights and responsibilities that protect our families — is not only unfair, it's wrong. Of course, it helps that more religions and religious leaders are standing with us on this issue.

The truth is that many people need time to think through the issue of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Fortunately, Californians are open-minded and reasonable. The more they have a chance to talk it through, the more they support fairness for everyone. The more they see that the sky doesn't fall when same-sex couples are allowed the freedom to marry, the less willing they are to hurt us by excluding us from one of the most legally important institutions in our society. After all, if we're doing the work of marriage, shouldn't we have the rights and protections too? Absolutely!

Of course, this drives the right-wingers crazy. They want their personal views and religious interpretations to be imposed on everyone else. Still, they read the same studies I do and, regardless of whether they will admit it, they know that time is on our side. The younger people of today already overwhelmingly support the freedom to marry, and they will be making the rules tomorrow. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Thank goodness.

Lorri L. Jean is the chief executive of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, which is dedicated to caring for the health, advocating for the rights and enriching the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Are the people only right when they agree with you? By Ron Prentice
Lorri, I think it is important to tell you that I favor basic human rights for all. As I contemplate your words of yesterday and today, I don't think you've been "fair" to me, or millions of other Californians, by casting a net over us and suggesting that we all believe homosexuals should be treated as less than human because we disagree with homosexual marriages. However, basic human rights are different than the right to marry.

Yes, it is true that gays are more publicly accepted and supported than ever before. This is true for many reasons, including the increasing awareness of homosexual people in positions of influence, the inclusion of gay characters in television and film entertainment and the fact that homosexuals are accepted and loved family members, co-workers and neighbors. In addition, laws which allow homosexuals to make their sexual orientation known — with less fear of reprisal — have been put in place.

Lorri, I cannot ignore the fact that you wrote yesterday "just because a majority of the people may support something doesn't make it right" and today you write "…greater numbers of people are becoming supportive of allowing same-sex couples to marry." In other words, the decision shouldn't be left up to the people, unless the people are in agreement with your viewpoint.

Viewpoint, or worldview, is what it is all about. My worldview informs me that marriage is far more than two people "in love." Marriage is about generational, societal well-being. Yes, society and its presumed protector, law, continue to support the marriage commitment between a man and a woman because it is the best way to increase the likelihood that children will be raised in a home with both a mother and a father. I suppose you'll take issue with this, Lorri, but overwhelming social science research continues to show that children do best when supplied with the benefits of mother and father, not just two individuals in a relationship.

Allowing same-sex couples the title of "married" contradicts the historical purposes of marriage, which have been less about love and more about procreation and the protection and healthy development of children, for the sake of society. This is why that which originally came from religion has been adopted by government.

The majority of Californians continue to hold back from approving "marriage" for homosexual couples because there really is something special — even ordained — about the design of a mother and a father committed to a lasting, harmonious union for the sake of the children. Some oppose homosexual marriage because of religious reasons, some for purely societal reasons, and still others oppose homosexual marriage because of both faith and reason.

Sympathy and subjective "fairness" cannot take precedence over the meaning and purpose of marriage that has existed in virtually every society. Indeed, domestic partnerships in California have provided tremendous legal rights and protections to homosexual couples. Still, marriage between a man and a woman — only — is worthy of legal protection.

Tomorrow, I look forward to the chance to show that marriage doesn't hold the same meaning in the homosexual community as it does in mainstream society.

Ron Prentice is the chief executive of the California Family Council, which is dedicated to the protection and promotion of Judeo-Christian principles in California's culture. CFC has offices in Riverside and Sacramento.

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