13 September 2006: Support Referendum I

Support Referendum I for equality and fairness

“…with liberty and justice for all except for gays.” How’s that for an ending to the Pledge of Allegiance? Of course, the Tom Tancredo and Focus on the Family types might want to add a few others—immigrants, atheists and agnostics, women who insist on reproductive rights, and liberals in general—but the issue here centers on gay rights.

There will be two initiatives on the November ballot relating to gay rights: Referendum I, which would extend a few legal protections to domestic partners; and Amendment 43, which would carve into the constitution what the legislature has already determined: marriage is between a man and a woman. There are two reasons for supporting Referendum I and opposing Amendment 43—fairness and equality. On the other hand, there are two reasons to oppose the first and support the second—bigotry and paranoia.

CU professor of atmospheric science Michael Mills wrote a poignant piece in the Denver Post on August 20, giving light to the legal nightmare same-sex couples find themselves particularly when health or end of life issues arise. He describes the experience of John Crisci, who tragically missed being with Michael Tartaglia, his partner of 33 years, when Michael died. The men were working out at the gym when Michael collapsed, but by time John scrambled home to frantically grab power-of-attorney documents he knew he would need and raced to the hospital, Michael had died.

Mills notes as well the dilemma gay couples face with regard to other legal issues such as eligibility for health insurance coverage under one’s partner’s work health plan. I have friends currently facing that mess, and quite frankly, it’s a mess.

There are a variety of reasons people tie the knot. Child-bearing is one, but hardly mandatory. In fact, the state is completely indifferent when it comes to having kids. It does get involved, however, when it comes to child-rearing, and studies have shown on that gay parents are as fit, and often more so, than their hetero counterparts. Families headed by same-sex parents are also becoming more common, raising practical concerns about simple things such as a teacher calling one of the parents with regard to the student’s progress or a discipline issue. At least one of my students is a member of one, and I know of others.

The bottom line is marriage is a legal contract between two consenting adults that provides for such contingencies such as life and death calls. The state is the final arbiter as to what makes a marriage. Religious or spiritual ceremonies are optional.

Conservatives bellow that legislatures should be the final deciders when it comes to enacting law—that is until it comes to issues such as taxes and marriage. Then they become hell bent to inscribe their issues du jour into the constitution—the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment and TABOR—just in case some utopians decide that the phrase from the Preamble, “to establish justice,” means to establish justice and act do so.

As countless non-paranoid hetero couples have accounted, a no gay couple living anywhere is a threat to their marriages. Matthew Shepard’s parents Judy and Dennis, who I believe are straight, released this as part of their statement opposing the FMA: “It was hatred directed towards the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community that personally harmed our family and took away our son, Matthew, not the love and commitment expressed each and every day between same-sex couples. Love is the foundation for marriage, not a threat to it. That love should be celebrated by society, not diminished.

“In their (the President and Senate Majority Leadership) opinion, marriage between a man and a woman needs to be protected or the world as they know it will collapse along with modern society. It ain’t so. During the course of our 33-year marriage, the only time our family has needed protection is when hatred and discrimination took the life of our son Matthew.”

As it was three decades ago with reproductive rights, Colorado has the opportunity to be the leader in America on this issue—the first state to popularly allow for legal protections for domestic partners and the first to refuse to inscribe into its constitution a marriage provision that ought to remain in the realm of its duly elected public servants. Passing Referendum I and defeating Amendment 43 would not provide gay couples the right to book passage on the Love Boat, but doing so would allow them to set sail on the ocean of life relationships in something more than a rowboat.

At its heart, the domestic partnership issue is essentially libertarian and not cluttering the constitution with issues best left to the legislature is conservative at its heart. Perhaps true libertarians and true conservatives—not the ones who value Brittney Spears marriages over oftentimes decades-long loving and fulfilling relationships between two men or women—will begin to speak out on these issues and not be fearful of “what the neighbors might think.”

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