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It's just a word

It's just a word


Walking on a lonely D.C. street, our teenage diarist has an epiphany: Marriage doesn't matter.

Senior year... On the brink of conforming to reality.... College applications.... Audition material.


I have not had enough time to breathe, let alone think to even put words down on paper. Alas, I cannot stand being quiet for too long. That flame of intuition inside of me forces my silence to succumb to the pen.

Speaking of silence, midnight in D.C. is conspicuously stagnant. There is a flickering streetlight that can't decide whether it wants to grace us with its rusty warmth. A derelict is smoking a cigarette he found in an ashtray. The theater is closing. Yet the activity is mute as shriveled leaves dance around my feet.

Then something caught my eye: linen pages bound in burgundy card stock. To a passerby it would appear to be a piece of trash, but something moved me to pick it up. Amid the lack of activity my focus was driven to these stray pages.

I picked it up off the sidewalk and looked at the cover: "The Commitment Ceremony of John & Keith, St. Margaret's Episcopal Church--Washington, D.C."

"We celebrate the commitment and covenant we make with each other," reads the closing note from John and Keith. "We celebrate 10 years of our lives together, and most of all, we celebrate the amazing gifts God has given us in each of you." It was a poetic angle of love in ink .

Human science, as advanced as it is, can't measure love. Science can study love's various energies. Science can record its external countenance. It can hypothesize the outcome of love's immutable drive. But science cannot quantify the immeasurable value of love.

On the other hand, we have an industry that can create cheap imitations of love. Hollywood projects a series of images claiming to accurately emulate the reality that is love. People pay eight bucks a seat to bear witness to the hysterical depictions on the big screen.

Amid these different worlds, state governments--our necessary evil--add to their growing pile of false claims that they can define love. Unfortunately, many organizations and activists on both sides of the fence jump on the bandwagon towards the pinnacle of tarnishing democratic values. Both the government and these organizations claim that "marriage is about love." In saying that, these government officials believe that same-sex couples do not contain the ability to love like their heterosexual peers and therefore do not deserve legal status as partners. Most state governments support the passing of legislation that restricts the rights and benefits of marriage to only a man and a woman. Other organizations, both in favor of and against same-sex marriage, believe that marriage is defined by love on the basis that the love of two people is validated by a marriage contract.

I disagree.

Marriage is about binding two people (read: a man and a woman) in a legal contract that grants them over 1,100 federal benefits. The concept is plain and simple: Marriage is a legal issue when it comes to politics. In playing politics, organizations pushing for restrictions on marriage use a weak argument that same-sex couples are not deserving of the "fundamental institution of traditional marriage." Gay rights organizations shoot back, stating that same-sex couples deserve the right to marriage just as heterosexual couples do. I don't think either side is making themselves clear.

Perhaps many gay rights organizations do not intend to state that same-sex couples seek to impede on the foundation of "traditional marriage," but in advocating for equal legislation at this point in time we are moving in the wrong direction. Are we seeking marriage, or are we seeking the rights and benefits of a marriage contract?

Do same-sex couples (or heterosexual couples, for that matter) need to validate their relationship with a legal contract? No. Same-sex couples do, however, need access to the benefits of marriage--notably hospital visitation, guardianship rights, adoption and custody rights, domestic-violence protections, and a number of other important privileges that come with a marriage contract--all of which are things that the majority of voters in the country support for same-sex couples.

So why are "family" organizations (along with the government) and gay rights activists measuring love with a piece of paper? Clearly, America is not ready for same-sex couples to be equally granted the title of marriage. Forty-five states have made that clear by establishing legislation that restricts marriage to heterosexual couples. Twenty-six states have passed constitutional amendments restricting marriage, and 11 more have proposed such amendments.

We are advocating for the wrong thing. We should be establishing the fundamental principles for same-sex couples that come in marriage contracts, not getting wrapped up in the word marriage itself. According to nationwide polls, American voters support granting marriage-like rights to same-sex couples. In Virginia, the majority of voters say they would support legislation that allows for these benefits for same-sex couples, as has been made apparent in this year's general assembly session in Richmond. The issue of marriage is still a sensitive subject for our country. Are same-sex couples deserving of the rights and benefits granted to heterosexual couples in marriage? Yes. Are American voters supportive of same-sex marriage? No. Are American voters supportive of key benefits of marriage for same-sex couples? Yes. Yet, where do our priorities lie in the gay rights movement?

I am not saying we should give up.I am not saying that we should agree with "family" organizations and the legislation passed by 45 states. I am saying that we need to make sense when it comes to advocating for equality. Equality comes in steps, and we need to recognize that obtaining equality requires patience and sensible tactics. By forcing the issue of same-sex marriage on America we have created a major setback. State governments and voters struck back by using the constitution as a weapon, and our own organizations should be held accountable for jumping the gun.

We allowed ourselves to get wrapped up in the word marriage, and now we have had to waste time unsuccessfully fighting back.

No one can satisfactorily answer a question that has spanned the very lifetime of human existence: What is love? Surely a marriage contract is not the epitome of a loving relationship. I like the word that John and Keith used: commitment.

What are we accomplishing for couples like John and Keith when we repeatedly use the word marriage? Clearly, America would rather we use a different word for the time being. Perhaps we should focus on the people rather than the terminology. John and Keith need the security and protection that heterosexual couples are given in marriage. We need to establish the protective benefits for these couples first. We can deal with the word issue later.

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