I learned that people value marriage in very strong and personal ways regardless of their perspectives. I learned that when hearing the word "marriage," many people think of the ceremony and don't think much about the legal benefits and responsibilities granted through the ceremony. I learned that people have different fears about same-sex marriage. For some, it's issues of raising children or issues relating to the breakdown of the traditional family. For others, the issues include being part of a loving family or supporting each other in times of difficulties. I learned that there are over 1,000 legal benefits that go to legally married, opposite-sex spouses in Kentucky. These benefits include inheritance, divorce guidelines, protection from being subpoenaed against one's spouse, child custody/support, immigration, Social Security survivor benefits, tax breaks, and many more.
I also learned that this issue is tangled beyond recognition with juxtaposing religious and governmental meanings and rights. While giving honor for the religious ceremonies and blessings bestowed by many of the world's religions, I also believe we can have equality while respecting freedom of religious expression.
The Kentucky marriage amendment states that "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."
The amendment has two parts. The first part is straightforward and clear. It limits legal marriage to one man and one woman. President Bush and Senator Kerry, a majority of Americans, and a majority of Kentuckians are in support of this, according to polls.
The second part is less clear and quite troubling. It bans legal recognition of civil unions and other benefits that are similar or associated with marriage. Pre-nuptial agreements and domestic partnership benefits offered by universities or local governments could be in jeopardy. Polls find that a majority of Americans, a majority of Kentuckians, and even Kerry and now Bush argue that states should be allowed to offer civil unions or some type of benefits.
I keep coming back to the second part of the proposed amendment - the statement that spells out discrimination. This is not "separate but equal." This is not "special rights." It is blatant discrimination. The proposed amendment the Kentucky voters are being asked to support specifically excludes citizens from the responsibilities and benefits of taxpayers. How can we sanction government benefits to some but not to others? Shouldn't everyone have access to the same benefits? Again, this is not a religious issue, but a civil rights issue.
Several prominent African-American civil rights leaders, including Coretta Scott King, Julian Bond, and Henry Louis Gates, have publicly supported civil marriage equality for same-sex relationships. Congressman and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) wrote recently, "Government's exclusion of gays and lesbians from civil marriage denies them the basic human right to marry the person they love. It denies them numerous legal protections for their families. This discrimination is wrong. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation . We hurt our fellow citizens and our community when we deny gay people civil marriage and its protections and responsibilities. Rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles, and dreams. It's time we treated them as equals, as family."
I have listened to learn and I have determined that a "Yes" vote for the amendment would be sanctioning discrimination. A "No" vote will assure that everyone has a stake in supporting families throughout the Commonwealth. Please, vote "No" on the amendment.
Sandra Noble Canon
Bluegrass Region National Conference for Community and Justice