Ky. Voices: Marriage is a basic human right that should not be denied

The Rev. Marsha J. Charles is pastor of Bluegrass United Church of Christ in Lexington.
The Rev. Marsha J. Charles is pastor of Bluegrass United Church of Christ in Lexington.

Isn't it interesting how people come together in amazing ways for a common cause — such as after natural disasters, personal tragedies or following impactful world events?

There seems to be a sense of buy-in; problems and challenges are seen from a humanistic viewpoint and help is offered without boundaries of race, culture, politics, gender or religion. It's those euphoric, "kumbayah" moments that remind us of our common humanity and move us beyond narrow restrictions to a mutual respect and care for one another.

Unfortunately, we notice that these moments don't last very long as they are quickly replaced with new divisions and self-serving dictates.

The issue of marriage equality calls us to reflect on the rights and dignity of gay and lesbian citizens. At the heart of this important issue is the question of equal rights — not special rights as some want to profess — but basic rights of choosing to whom one can convey civil responsibilities and with whom one can legally proclaim a life of mutual love and care.

People who sit side by side at volunteer blood donation centers or stand beside one another providing food or medical care to victims of extraordinary circumstances suddenly find themselves at odds about who should have the legal right to marry.

Heterosexual folks can be passionate about not granting marriage rights — sometimes citing religious doctrines to support their interpretation of how their faith will not allow them to support justice and equality.

Other heterosexuals (many of whom also use their interpretation of faith to support the idea that all should be given marriage rights) become tireless advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Still others become indifferent because it's not their issue.

In the LGBT community, most argue adamantly for full marriage equality while some are indifferent to the issue. But, like it or not, marriage equality is an issue for all of us.

Across cultures, those pushed to the margins of society have stood in long lines for equality yet often have had to wait behind the majority who are in charge of making decisions for the minority.

Political pundits state that in a democracy, majority rules; legislative pundits profess that states should be responsible for making their own laws. And religious institutions often bow down to pressure to keep controversial topics at bay for fear of losing parishioners.

Across the spectrum, it seems that the issue of marriage equality is debated and pushed to another day — another agenda — someone else to stand up for what is clearly fair and, frankly, what is a basic civil right for law-abiding, tax-paying LGBT citizens.

Regardless of how one feels about the morals of the issue, the denial of civil rights cannot be objectively defended. For example, some believe that drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are wrong, yet it is legal to purchase and consume both.

Some believe that divorce is wrong; yet divorce is sanctioned by civil law and recognized in many religious communities. Some faith communities will not marry heterosexuals who marry someone from another faith tradition or denomination — yet that marriage is still legal.

And, in spite of the progress we've made with regard to race relations, many still argue against interracial marriage — but that marriage, too, is now legal. That's thanks to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized it, much to the argument and chagrin of many southern state legislatures.

In the true spirit of mutual respect of our differences and shared citizenry of our country, an individual of any sexual orientation should have the civil right to love who they love, choose who they want at their bedside during illness, injury or death, and leave an estate that was shared with a life partner to them without a penalty of taxes.

According to a 2004 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office, there are at least 1,138 tangible benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities that marriage brings couples and their kids. And that's just at the federal level.

Add in state and local law, and the policies of businesses, employers, universities and other institutions, and it is clear that the denial of marriage to couples and their kids makes a substantial impact on every area of life — from rearing kids, building a life together and caring for one another to retirement, death and inheritance.

Most of these cannot be secured by private agreement or through lawyers.

This year's presidential election includes the issue of marriage equality as one of the hot-button issues — with the Democratic convention recently endorsing marriage equality.

In truth, when the election is over and the strategists have analyzed whether or not that policy decision helped or hurt a candidate, the issue of marriage equality will still be important.

Until and unless marriage equality is granted, the LGBT community will remain standing in the long line for justice.

What a shame for them; what a shame for our country whose Declaration of Independence professes that "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

As a gay citizen, as a gay Christian and as someone who longs for my relationship to be legally recognized, it is my hope and tireless advocacy that indeed, someday, that declaration will apply to me, too.