Why I Voted No on Amendment # 1

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By Chris Fitzgerald

“Ms. Fitzgerald, this is Officer Jones of the Winthrop police department. I regret to inform you that your friend, Rob, has passed away and we’ll be taking his body to the Medical Examiner’s office. We’re calling you because your name and phone number were amongst a pile of legal documents by the phone…” I would later learn that Rob was dead for three days before his body was discovered.

I met Rob on May 29, 1993 at U-Mass Boston while enrolled in Professor Dunbar’s American History I class, which incidentally, was the same day that I met my husband. We were amongst a group of late-bloomers, majoring in history, who, for whatever reason, had managed to satisfy our American History II requirement before its precedent course. Rob and I had maintained a close relationship, at least by telephone, since that first meeting.

Rob was so many things – a dutiful son who, as a teenager, had assumed financial responsibility for his family in order for his mother to escape an abusive marriage; a devoted friend; a decorated, Vietnam veteran; a commercial airline pilot with over 20 years of experience; a cancer survivor (at least while he was in remission); an intellect; and finally, a homosexual.   In life, the latter was the least of his defining characteristics, yet in death it was his primary.

Having lost most of his family to homophobia and the vast majority of his peers to AIDS, Rob left this world with nothing more than a grave-side service, primarily paid for with his GI benefits and, perhaps most distressing, without so much as an obituary in the Boston Globe.

Rob “came out” to me about seven years into our friendship, quite accidentally, after I revealed to him that “he would make the perfect homosexual.” Of course, that comment was intended as a left-handed compliment to a friend whose sensitivity and listening skills were the equivalent of the very best “gal pal.” Rob’s revelation cemented our relationship. That night we talked until the early hours of the morning, drank beer and wine on our respective ends, and laughed like we had never laughed before. In essence, it was a new beginning, as we had lifted the “iron curtain” between us for future dialogue. From that moment on, no topic was off limits, and over the course of time, Rob “enlightened me” to what it was like to be homosexual in a heterosexual world. 

Though Rob died in May, we had devoted much time to discussing the legislative oppression of homosexuals, including the imminent “gay marriage bans” which would likely surface as a result of Massachusetts’ legalization of gay marriage. Rob explained that while neither he nor the majority of his peers desired a traditional marriage ceremony, what they most sought is equal protection under the laws, including the rights, as a couple, to insure their partners on employer-sponsored healthcare policies; to enter into binding contracts; collect social security benefits and pensions; and to be treated as next of kin in major medical decisions. Had Rob been privy to a heterosexual union, he could have left his veteran benefits to his widow and children. His status denied him the same.

Rob opened my eyes and mind to the inequity of our legal system. Being a “moderate liberal”, the issue of gay marriage has been a historically low priority on my political agenda. As a Christian, I have difficulty reconciling those who preach acceptance at the pulpit, while denying the same at the voting booth. I find it ironic that conservatives fight rigorously to defend the “traditional family” which accounts for less than ten percent of the current population.       

My candidate’s view of Amendment #1 is irrelevant in the upcoming election, as all of the candidates running for office are in favor of illegalizing gay marriage in Tennessee; a proposal that extends to marriages performed elsewhere, as well. HJ Res 88, Same Sex Marriage Resolution, was defeated in the US House of Representatives on July 18, 2006. There, the deciding factor was not partisanship, but rather, what side of the Mason-Dixon line the Representative resided on; southern representatives (with the exception of a liberal Florida) tended to vote “yes” for the resolution, while their more liberal northern colleagues tended to vote “no.”   Issues aside, and I believe that most politicians support the issues that guarantee them the most votes; my primary criterion for US Senate became who, in my opinion, administered the cleanest campaign; simple, yet true.       

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that "no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Equal Protection Clause lends ancillary support to the Preamble of the Constitution, as written by Thomas Jefferson, that all men are created equal. At the time that the Constitution was drafted, these rights were narrowly interpreted to apply only to free, white men. The application of the Clause has varied significantly depending on the construct of the Supreme Judicial Court and whether the terms of the clause were granted narrow or broad interpretation. Further, there are certain “suspect” classifications, such as race and religion, which require strict constitutional scrutiny; thereby requiring a “compelling” means test. Hence, if the government discriminates against members of a suspect class, it must have a compelling reason for doing so; rarely can the government meet its burden. While the right to marry is a fundamental right, the right to enter into a homosexual marriage is not. And here lies the crux of the debate. My position distinguishes the right to marry from whom you marry. Whether the U.S. Constitution supports this position will be a matter of future interpretation; however, since the Constitution fails to define the specific parameters of marriage (hence, the proposal to amend), I believe that the Constitution does extend equal protection rights to homosexual couples under both a narrow and broad interpretation; though probably contrary to the intent of our founding fathers.

I believe that the issue of “gay marriage” could be resolved visa vie the enactment of a federally mandated “civil union.” As applied in Germany, civil union ceremonies are required of all couples, heterosexual and homosexual alike, while marriage ceremonies are entirely optional. Hence, I believe that the legality of the union should be granted federal protection, while the individual religious congregations dicker over whether or not to permit homosexual marriages. Subsequently, under my proposal, homosexual couples would be granted the exact same rights as those enjoyed by their heterosexual colleagues.  Additionally, homosexual unions would be subjected to the same responsibilities under the law, including jurisdictional divorce laws as they pertain to custodial rights and property distribution.