Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dear Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

I appreciate your decision to extend hospital visitation and decision-making rights to same sex couples with the appropriate legal paperwork.

I am concerned that even this provision, however, is fundamentally separate and not equal to its "marriage" equivalent. It relies on lesbian and gay couples having the money (approximately $500 per couple) to obtain the appropriate durable/medical power of attorney documents. Gay and lesbian families are adversely affected by the recession, too. Likewise, I believe that handing out the 1,138 federal rights of marriage one-by-one is not realistic for lesbian and gay couples or families.

I have been teaching about the issues facing lesbian and gay folks at a community college in Iowa for the past 5 years. In the process, I have learned that the "average" American is very receptive to marriage for same sex couples when presented with the facts. Unfortunately, we have not- through advertisements or political addresses- given the public the information necessary to understand why marriage equality is so important. Here's my suggestion for speaking to the public based both on my experiences in the classroom and my understanding of your (and many others') reservations about marriage for same sex couples:

Use this mandate you just issued as an opportunity to address the public. In the address, tell the public that you understand that many of them, because of their religious beliefs, are not comfortable with the idea of marriage for same sex couples. Tell them that you, yourself, are not comfortable with the idea of marriage given your religious beliefs.

Then inform them that, despite this discomfort, the reality of marriage is that it is, first (the first marriages in what became the United States were performed by colonial magistrates) and foremost a civil matter. Tell them that zero of the rights of marriage come from the church. Tell them that 1,138 rights of marriage (including social security benefits, rights of inheritance without taxation, hospital visitation, etc.) come from the federal government and approximately 300-600 rights come from the state in which you are married.

Explain to the public that extending the state and federal rights of marriage to same sex couples does not require that they change their religious beliefs and does not require any religious group to perform a ceremony. Extending marriage benefits to same sex couples only brings parity and equality with opposite sex couples in the eyes of the law: It does not take away rights from opposite sex couples nor does it extend "special" rights to same sex couples. Also explain that, in order to receive any of the 1,400+ rights of marriage, the word marriage must be used both because all state and federal documents reference "marriage" and because there is well documented evidence that anything else (e.g., civil unions in New Jersey) creates a system of "separate and unequal" in the eyes of the law.

End the address by informing the public that you will do all that you can to eliminate the last pieces of institutionalized discrimination against a minority group that remain in the United States (feel free to insert any other ideas you have for doing so here). Ask the public to please join you by showing support for the Supreme Court hearing the case in California and, in the meantime, by contacting their Senators and Representatives to support the "Respect for Marriage Act."

Thank you for doing what is right. Sincerely, Me

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