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Created: July 27, 2003
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Site Teaching Modules Backup of Gay-marriage debate simmers
By Judith Graham
SOURCE: The chicago Tribune
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Included here under Fair Use Doctrine for teaching purposes.,1,3543464.story Original source URL.

Gay-marriage debate simmers
The Supreme Court has overturned anti-sodomy laws, but experts say it may take decades for the struggle over nuptials to reach a resolution

By Judith Graham
Tribune national correspondent

July 27, 2003

DENVER -- Kenyon Anderson and his father, John, stand on opposite sides of a deeply controversial issue splitting families, churches and communities: gay marriage.

Anderson, 38, a Denver architect, is homosexual and would marry the Brazilian man he loves "in a heartbeat" if he could. His father, who runs a bed and breakfast in northern Virginia, disapproves. Marriage is "between a man and a woman" and should stay that way, he says.

It's a long-standing, passion-inspiring debate that involves strong religious sentiments, touchstone social roles--husband and wife--and the meaning of two of society's most fundamental institutions--marriage and family.

Though gay couples increasingly participate in commitment ceremonies--complete with tuxedos, wedding dresses and cakes--no state allows couples of the same sex to marry. Only one, Vermont, allows civil unions, a marriage-like contract, between gay couples.

This summer, the debate over gay marriage has flared anew because of a groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling and the legalization of same-sex weddings by two Canadian provinces. But don't expect a definitive resolution any time soon, experts warn: This is a social and legal struggle that will unfold over years, even decades, much like the civil rights movement.

The analogy strikes a chord in the gay community. For gays, the argument over same-sex marriage is about equal rights: their ability to win recognition of committed relationships between any two adults, with all the attending legal rights and responsibilities.

Pam Wedig, 48, of Round Lake, Ill., has a 27-year-old gay son who lives with his partner. She also has a 24-year-old daughter who is married.

"He should be allowed to have everything she's got--recognition of his relationship, all the benefits of marriage," Wedig said.

Something else is at stake for social conservatives: the sanctity of marriage. For them, legalizing gay marriage would be changing a bedrock social institution and giving society's approval to something that they feel they cannot condone. Many of them cite religious reasons for their opposition.

The complementarity of men and women is "rooted in our human nature, and at the foundation of family and marriage. We tinker with that at our peril," said Bill Maier, psychologist in residence at Focus on the Family, a conservative, non-profit organization in Colorado.

"God created man and woman for a purpose, to marry and multiply, that's the way I look at it," said Frieda Weglin of Denver.

Legislation in Canada

While a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, the push to legalize it is gathering momentum because of several significant developments.

Canada this month proposed legislation to redefine marriage and recognize same-sex unions nationally. Massachusetts could become the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriages under a case that might be decided by the state's top court any day, legal observers say.

The Episcopal Church meets this week in Minneapolis to confront an escalating controversy over whether it should recognize an openly gay bishop candidate from New Hampshire--and draft a blessing over same-sex unions. The controversy threatens to cause a worldwide schism in the church between conservatives and reformers.

The U.S. Supreme Court helped push the issue to the forefront with a June decision overturning anti-sodomy laws that outlawed gay sex in 13 states. Homosexuals and lesbians have a right to "respect for their private lives," according to the majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In a scathing dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia accused his colleagues of signing on to the "so-called homosexual agenda" and warned "do not believe" that the majority opinion sidesteps the same-sex marriage issue.

Even as hope for expanded rights soared in the gay community with the Supreme Court's decision, social conservatives sounded the alarm and began to rally behind a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as "the union of a man and a woman."

Three Democrats and three Republicans introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment in May in the House of Representatives, and it has since been endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), among others.

It is meant to protect against the possibility that courts may eventually strike down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act enacted by Congress and similar laws in 37 states, said Guy Short, chief of staff to Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), one of the sponsors of the amendment.

These laws, passed in reaction to gay activism, define marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Shift in attitudes

Public attitudes toward homosexuality have shifted dramatically since Chicago's National Opinion Research Center first began asking people about gay sex in 1973 in its general social survey.

That year, 72.5 percent of respondents said gay sex was "always wrong" while only 1.2 percent said it was "not wrong at all." By 2002, those seeing nothing wrong with gay sex had soared to 31.7 percent, while those adamantly opposed had dropped to 55.8 percent.

There is also an age divide: Younger people of each succeeding generation are far more accepting of gay sex than older people, a trend that matches the gradual acceptance of racial equality during the 20th Century, said Tom Smith, director of the social survey.

As more gays come out, making their presence known in churches, community organizations and popular culture, some people's opinions are changing. For Emil Eck, 51, of Des Plaines, Ill., who was raised Catholic and describes himself as a moderate Republican, having a gay supervisor--who is also a friend and "the best boss I ever had"--was a turning point.

"Before that, I would have felt [gays] were different and not the kind of people I wanted to associate with. Now, I think what they do with their lives is a personal thing. I don't want anyone telling me what I can or cannot do. Why should they be treated any different?" said Eck, a restaurant franchise manager.

This view resonates widely with the public, according to a 2000 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent think tank. In the case of housing, employment, inheritance rights, health insurance and Social Security, majorities exceeding 60 percent said gays should have equal rights or benefits.

Marriage vs. civil union

But marriage is different to most Americans--an institution that bears an aura of sanctity, one that is more than a matter of rights alone, polls show.

A new poll from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds 53 percent of Americans opposed to gay marriages, a sharp drop from 65 percent in 1996. A Gallup poll in June found 55 percent opposed, with 39 percent in favor of the idea.

If the question is phrased in terms of civil unions--contracts that extend recognition and rights to gay couples but not the formal designation of marriage--49 percent of Americans expressed their approval in the Gallup poll.

"Americans in this day and age don't support discrimination and probably don't care much about what homosexuals do as long as they're not asked to actively approve of the [homosexual] lifestyle," said Michael McKenna, a conservative pollster in Washington. "But marriage is a kind of social stamp of approval."

Rick Duncan, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Nebraska, argues that there is a wide gap between saying that homosexuals shouldn't be subject to criminal sanctions for their sexual behavior--what the Supreme Court ruled last month--and saying marriage laws should be invalidated.

The public and the states have a valid interest in defining marriage between a man and a woman as the "prototype relationship" most worthy of support, encouragement and public recognition because "we think it's the best family structure for children to be born into and raised," Duncan said. "That doesn't mean that other relationships are bad. It just means they're something other than the social ideal."

What studies say

That argument ignores substantial evidence that children raised by committed gay couples are as well-adjusted socially, emotionally and sexually as children from traditional marriages, said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a New York group advocating equal marriage rights.

As many as 14 million U.S. children live with at least one gay parent, researchers say.

Conservatives dispute many studies of kids of gay parents as incomplete or poorly designed. In a research review, the American Psychological Association said, "Not a single study has found children of gay or lesbian parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect."

But that doesn't make it right, said Ellen Abbey, 49, who lives in Denver with her husband and two children. She is a Catholic who goes by church teachings that homosexual unions are wrong and defy Scripture.

"I don't judge men or women who want to do it. But I don't agree with it, or condone it. Why do they have to be married, after all? Why not make some other kind of arrangement?"

Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune

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