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Gay Marriage Debate

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Gay Marriage Debate

by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Friday July 21, 2006

Just when you think Congress can not become any less relevant to our nation's problems, new surprises occur.

This week's bizarre House debate over same-sex marriage produced one such moment. At a time when the Middle East and our deficit are exploding, when families have real concerns about healthcare, when wildfires rage through thousands of acres, and we approach the first anniversary of Katrina with little to show, we returned to the debate on same-sex marriage.

At times, you have to question whether to dignify the spectacle with your participation in the debate. I found myself compelled to add my voice as I listened to outrageous comments about threats to marriage from unelected judges. What is going on across the country is precisely the approach that conservative, limited government advocates would want: states are looking at different approaches. Same sex marriage has been allowed in Massachusetts for two years and civil unions in Vermont since 2000. Other states are considering provisions that would accord gay and lesbian couples certain rights and tools that most Americans take for granted.

What was most frustrating for me was the contrast between what was being claimed and what I know to be the case. Gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships are too busy coping with the problems that face any couple compounded by the discrimination and the lack of legal protection. It was particularly bizarre to have this conversation following hard on the heels of the marital dispute in New York which ended up in a physician destroying a multi-million-dollar residence, killing himself, and spotlighting the bizarre, destructive, and expensive behaviors occasioned by New York being the only state without a "no-fault" divorce. The mainstream media are filled with accounts of heterosexual couples involved tawdry domestic relations and marital problems, but never have I seen any link to same sex relationships as a problem for marriage.

Amidst this backdrop, I was part of a debate that featured two members of Congress I regard as friends and whom are widely respected and admired; Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin. Tammy, the first open lesbian elected to Congress, and Barney, the most famous gay Representative, both stood calmly and forcefully in the well of the House, treating the measure with the dignity that frankly it didn't deserve.

As I listened to their compelling and thoughtful arguments I was struck by the notion of how these two committed individuals were being treated by their colleagues. I cannot believe that the sponsors don't somehow, in their heart of hearts, feel that Barney and Tammy deserve the same respect and legal protections as anyone in their family.

Despite the shameful attempt at political manipulation at the expense of millions of innocent Americans whose sexual orientation made them a target, my absolute conviction that the tide is turning was reinforced. The combination of young people who are not suffering the same degree of prejudice and cynicism, combined with thousands more prominent, visible gay and lesbian citizens like Barney and Tammy convince me that this is the last decade that we will witness such displays. Obviously, one is frustrated. It is hard enough for me to endure and I am saddened that millions of gay and lesbian Americans have to pay the price of these political charges.

I first joined this debate in the early 1970's by chairing a hearing on anti-discrimination legislation before the Oregon legislature. A third of a century later, through the fog of congressional partisan political manipulation, I think we are turning the corner in a bizarre way. Today's spectacle hastens the day for full civil rights for all gay and lesbian citizens.

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