Today's post is from Patricia A. Gozemba, co-author (with Karen Kahn and Marilyn Humphries) of Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First legal Same-Sex Marriages (Beacon Press, 2007). You can read more at www.courtingequality.com
California, we are so happy to have you join us. It’s hardly a "from sea to shining sea moment" of marriage equality, but now Massachusetts and California have shown the country that equal marriage is fundamental to freedom and liberty. The threats to the marriage equality movement in California will probably continue, just as they have in Massachusetts. But oh, for this moment, our country feels like a "sweet land of liberty." All these patriotic refrains keep running through my head!
Be prepared to hear that "the end of civilization is coming." That’s the least of the hateful rhetoric that will come your way. Take heart. We have heard it all in Massachusetts. Now four and a half years after the Goodridge decision granting us marriage equality, we are still standing as we struggle to hold on to our rights and fight for the same rights for others.
While we are one-sixth the size of your population, our roots are in feistiness, rebellion, and a commitment to liberty and justice for all. Our combined populations approach 43 million--15% of the US population. How long will it seem fair to the other 239 million to withhold this civil right? You can look to our path-breaking ways and we gladly welcome your guidance. We are so happy to have you as allies.
On May 17, 2008, we mark four years of marriage equality. All of the dire predictions of "the sky is falling" ilk have proved to be nothing more than the rhetorical rantings of religious conservatives on a fear mongering mission.
Flashback to 2004, Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution in California, a conservative think tank, claimed that he had the statistics to show that the demise of heterosexual marriage was well underway in Scandinavia because of the granting of "marriage-like" (read, "separate but equal") gay relationship rights beginning with Denmark in 1989, Norway in 1993, Sweden in 1994, and Iceland in 1996. He predicted, "By the time we see the effects of gay marriage in America, it will be too late to do anything about it."
Governor Mitt Romney, revving up his presidential engines, predicted that Massachusetts would become "the Las Vegas of gay marriage."
James Dobson of Focus on the Family declared that Massachusetts was issuing "death certificates for the institution of marriage."
You'll hear the same. Stay the course.
Flash forward to 2008, Kurtz's skewed interpretation of statistics has been soundly refuted by scholars like M.V. Lee Badgett who examined Kurtz’s Scandinavian "data" and showed that "divorce rates have not risen since the passage of partnership laws, and marriage rates have remained stable or actually increased." (Badgett also wrote a compelling brief in support of California's marriage case.) But reason and facts never stop a religious conservative like Kurtz from repeating inaccuracies that help mobilize anti-marriage equality sentiment. In a 2006 article he cops to his strategy. "Gay marriage undermines marriage... okay, I admit it. I'm a cranky, stick-in-the-mud conservative who keeps making the same tired old point." And an incorrect point, I might add.
Romney had his stint on the national stage where his own Vegas style flim-flam and flip-flop showmanship was soundly rejected by the American electorate. Back in our midst, he is trying to get John McCain's attention.
Dobson's dire warnings about gay marriage persist. A key component of Focus on the Family's financial and psychological empire is attacking LGBT people and our marriages in particular. Daniel Karslake’s brilliant 2007 film, For the Bible tells Me So, lays bare the hypocrisy of Dobson and his cohort of religious conservatives. As they rake in millions of dollars each year, they cite a couple of Biblical passages that they claim demonstrate that homosexuality is wrong. Meanwhile they ignore repeated passages admonishing all of us to give our money to the poor. Mega-millionaire preachers do not do the work of Jesus. But the Bible tells them that they are righteous and we are not. Karslake’s film challenges the empire.
Over 10,000 same-sex marriages in Massachusetts also present a challenge. We have had a "reality" show running here. Our marriages are succeeding. Even though we do not have the federal benefits that are critical for all families, LGBT families in 2008 are more secure socially, psychologically, and financially. Massachusetts still has the lowest divorce rate in the country and heterosexual marriage statistics have not plummeted.
Now California's same-sex couples will also enjoy the protections of marriage. Together we can show the other 85% of the US that equality is the American way.
Today when I spoke with Lisa Berg of Valencia, California, she had just gotten off the phone after asking her partner Rosanne Schembri, "Will you marry me?" Rosanne's reply was, "Again?" You see, they have been together for 29 years. In 1979 they had a Holy Union in Los Angeles. In 2001 they had a civil union in Vermont. In 2005, they had a domestic partnership in California. In 2006, they married in Toronto. Now they will marry in California. Again. This time it's for real. And rest assured, the sky will not fall.