by Pam Prasarttongosoth
Nearly two years ago, the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that the banning of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. On May 5, 1993, in a divided opinion (2-1-1), the justices ruled that under the equal protection laws, deprivation of ability to marry violated the anti-sex discrimination clause in the Hawaii Constitution. Because marriage is a legal relationship granting the partners many special rights and benefits, the Court found that the State could not deny same-sex partners access to those privileges. The case known as Baehr v. Lewin actually involved three same-sex couples who applied for marriage licenses, were denied, and then consequently filed a complaint against John C. Lewin, Director of Hawaii's Department of Health. Baehr was first heard in the circuit court, where on October 1, 1991, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' case. However, on an appeal to the Supreme Court that ruling was overturned. Lewin had argued that Hawaii was not discriminating because the plaintiffs were not denied marriage licenses because they were lesbian or gay, but because of "their biologic [sic] inability as a couple to satisfy the definition of the status to which they aspire,"and because "marriage, by definition and usage, means a special relationship between a man and a woman." In other words, they weren't denied licenses because they were in lesbian or gay relationships, but because they were not heterosexual. The Court found Lewin's arguments "circular and unpersuasive." A retrial was scheduled to be heard in a lower court next month, where Lewin must demonstrate compelling state interests in denying the licenses, but now that hearing may be pushed back as far as 1997. Much of the Hawaii Supreme Court's decision relied heavily on the 1964 case of Loving v. Virginia, which invalidated Virginia's miscegenation laws, lifting the ban on interracial marriage. The Virginia court declared that the "freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness of free [people]." The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the abridging of civil rights, and Hawaii's state Equal Rights Amendment prohibits discrimination based on sex. The Hawaii Supreme Court recognized that because marriage is a civil right, they could not constitutionally deny same-sex couples marriage; to do so would be discriminatory. The dissenting opinion was crafted very carefully; Justice Heen wrote that because neither men nor women could participate in same-sex marriage, that the sexes were not treated unequally since society sees marriage as the "appropriate and desirable forum for procreation and the rearing of children." Because, Heen continued, same-sex marriage precludes the possibility of reproduction, homosexual partnerships are not marriage. Of course, heterosexual couples that are physically unable, or unwilling, to do their part to propagate the human race, are exempt from such considerations. Immediately after the decision in Baehr was handed down, Hawaii Attorney General Robert Marks asked for the court to reconsider, but the Court refused his request. Among his many claims, Marks argued that same-sex marriage would be bad for the economy because the state would have to grapple with the burden of conferring spousal benefits upon all same-sex partners living together. The next month, a new Associate Justice joined the Court and stated that she concurred with the Court, strengthening the decision to a majority opinion (3-1). As a result of the Baehr decision, the state House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the issue in October of 1993, which pitted queers against fundamentalists. The chair of the Committee, Terrance Tom, decided not to pursue the passage of a constitutional amendment invalidating same-sex marriage. Instead, he was able to pass a law on June 22, 1994, which narrowly defines marriage as only existing between two people of opposite sex. In the text of the bill the legislature expressed dismay at what they considered to be the Supreme Court's decision to infringe on the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government by encroaching upon the legislature's law-making function, arguing that the Court had overstepped its bounds of authority in granting same-sex marriage civil rights status. Predictably, it appears that the threat of legally sanctioned same-sex marriages has moved other states to consider their own marriage statutes. Apparently in preparation for the upcoming retrial, the South Dakota Senate considered a bill that would not allow same-sex marriages performed in other states to be recognized in South Dakota. As a matter of policy, South Dakota will not perform same-sex marriage. Surprisingly, though, the bill was rejected (17-13) because the legislators doubted that it would withstand the scrutiny of the court. Although most South Dakotans probably would not object to this bill, the normally quiet lesbian and gay community put together an unprecedented organizing effort fighting the passage of this bill. Just after midnight on Thursday, March 2, the Utah State Senate (27-1-1) and House (62-1-12) passed a bill banning recognition of same-sex marriages performed anywhere. However, because the state Constitution states that all legislative activity must be completed by midnight, and the Attorney General may have to void the bill. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund will campaign to take Salt Lake City out of the running for the 2002 Winter Olympics, should the Attorney General decide the law is valid. Because the bill's 45-day legislative session was to run out that evening, the legislators were forced to quickly rush their vote. It appears, however, that support for the bill in this state, and pressure to vote anti-gay, is overwhelming. The decision to grant the right to marriage for same-sex couples will have many important ramifications for the queer community. On the path towards liberation, though, I wonder if marriage is actually a step in the right direction, merely a sidetrack, or perhaps something that might even be detrimental to the movement. Marriage may help us gain respect for our relationships and our families, as well as grant us many legal benefits, but first we must buy into the idea that couples who marry deserve that heightened level of esteem and privilege. Before we start accessorizing the bandwagon of marriage in shades of lavender and pink, we should worry about what kind of pressure the ability to marry will put on the queer community. To the heterosexist, our relationships are so outside the realm of normality, that any other deviations beyond that are expected. While a less freakish picture of the queer would be more accurate, allowing ourselves to accept an increasing assimilation into the straight world would also force us to lose part of our community identity, and in turn, sell out the parts of ourselves that cannot and will not fit into the Ozzie and Harry image of an acceptable homosexual lifestyle. Although it is important for people to recognize our humanity, and our civil rights, to achieve this we need not erase our differences, and insist that we are just like straight people. Even by accepting us as eligible participants in marriage, all will not be solved. Not only are there the legal battles in every state that will refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, but there will also be those bigots who will never let go of the venerated symbol of marriage as part of the exclusive domain of heterosexual life. No matter how hard some of us may try, it is doubtful that people will fail to remind us that we're still just a bunch of dykes and fags, and will refuse to personally acknowledge same-sex marriage. As we spend our valuable time and energy fighting this battle, we need to consider how important it is for us to know that yes, the straight establishment recognizes that we, too, can have lasting, meaningful relationships. One simple way in which we could redefine marriage, on a preliminary level, would be to take away all of the legal privileges that are attached to the process of obtaining a license, taking vows, and receiving a certificate to file in a drawer. Removing the link between marriage and income tax advantages, notions of community property and inheritance, child custody, family, health insurance would insure that heterosexual union was not inherently attached to privileges above those accorded to homosexual ones. Taking away these special rights would not only benefit lesbians and gays but others like the poor, who also do not reap the same economic advantages from marriage that are conferred upon the middle class. Although same-sex marriage will alter our conception of marriage to some degree, that does not change the origins of a practice that is so rooted in patriarchy, repression, and power imbalances. Offering the comfort and safety of well-known, established tradition, marriage can appear to provide a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. But all too often, financial constraints, the difficulty of divorce, and of course, social pressure keep married people stay together years after they fall out of love. Rather than see heterosexuals straighten us out, I would hope that the lesbigay community's contribution to society would be to queer society's views. Instead of trying to help people forget who we are, we should instead vow to never forget. We must challenge every institution that has been used to exclude us and separate us from the rest of the world, hindering our ability to achieve success. Instead of buying into the notion of marriage as the only genuine demonstration of love and commitment, we should strive to explode rigid definitions of acceptable forms and expressions of sexuality.