More than 100 opponents of same-sex marriage congregated near the Capitol and the Supreme Court on Sunday, in the last stop of the Summer for Marriage tour. Marriage equality supporters marched from the Capitol to Freedom Plaza in opposition.
The National Organization for Marriage -- which, despite its name, opposes gay marriage -- sponsored the "traditional marriage" event. The group is backing D.C. mayoral candidate Leo Alexander and Ward 5 Council candidate Delano Hunter. Speakers at the event included Bishop Harry Jackson, former D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, and Bob King, the city’s longest-serving advisory neighborhood commissioner.
D.C., of course, embraces gay marriage, and that is unlikely to change after this year’s election. The national protest tour was sparked primarily by pro-gay marriage campaigns across the county, and by the recent ruling on California’s Proposition 8.
During closing arguments in that case, conservative attorney Theodore Olson, who served as U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush, argued that the law "takes a group of people who have been victims of discrimination" and bars them from "participating in the most fundamental relationship in life."
Attitudes toward gay marriage are changing across the U.S. In April 2009, a nationwide ABC News poll showed a plurality of respondents backing legal gay marriage for the first time ever. In the same poll just five years earlier, less than one-third backed gay marriage.
A CNN poll this month showed 52 percent of respondents nationwide accepting the statement that "gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid."
This change should come as no surprise -- societal attitudes about marriage are constantly evolving. Anti-miscegenation laws were not ruled unconstitutional in the U.S. until 1967’s aptly named Loving v. Virginia. Today, the American president and the D.C. mayor are both the products of mixed-race parents.
Opponents of gay marriage tout the sanctity of "traditional" marriage, though it is laughable to suggest Britney Spears’ 55-hour union was more sacred than the 56-year relationship between lesbians Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
Ironically, the best solution to the marriage dilemma may be to actually revert to the institution’s real traditional roots -- as a non-governmental compact.
According to Oxford historian Lawrence Stone, an early European marriage was "a private contract between two families," and "for those without property, it was a private contract between two individuals." In England, government did not get into the marriage business until 1754.
In the U.S. today, though relationship status is requested on hundreds of official forms, the government’s only real interest is in two areas.
In the case of the first, determining custodial and property questions, government’s legitimate interest is waning. With so many nontraditional families today, courts and arbitrators handle many of these questions, and could continue to do so whether a marriage was approved by the state or not. The second case is taxation, where it is true that marriage status plays a big role. But this is an argument for tax reform, not continued marriage apartheid.
If the government got out of the wedding game, consenting parties could enter into marriage contracts based on whatever standards they like. Religions would remain free to set rules to which its members must adhere, while others could follow their own personal dictates. Marriage is a matter for its participants, their families, and if they choose, their faiths.
During the debate over D.C.’s gay marriage bill, Councilmember Marion Barry told a crowd, "We want to be moral, and moral leaders. I’m a politician who is moral, standing on the moral compass of God.”
Yes, this is the same Barry who was arrested for smoking crack cocaine, when he was in a hotel room with a woman 15 years his junior while he was married to someone else.
Openly gay D.C. Councilmember David Catania said in reply, "I want to do what Marion Barry has done four times. I want to get married."
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