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9 February 2004

Letter to my elected representative

As you will see later in the letter, I’m not optimistic that these
work, based in my own previous experience and study.  But I
figured I’d better try regardless.

    Dear Senator Shannon,

    I write to
encourage you to vote “no” on the amendment to the Massachusetts
Constitution that would restrict civil marriage to opposite-sex
couples, as this presents an unjust and unethical denial of civil
rights to same-sex couples here in the Commonwealth.

    One of the most
basic assumptions of our form of government, throughout more than two
centuries of existence, has been that all people, no matter what
characteristics they possess – their religion, race, ethnicity,
national origin, or sex – have the right to have the government treat
them fairly, equally, and in exactly the same way as their fellow
citizens.  Our governments have the duty to make sure that any and
all of the citizens receive the same treatment in the same
circumstances as everyone else.  Because gay people cannot receive
the legal protections for their committed, lifelong relationships that
“straight” couples can, gay people in the Commonwealth remain
second-class citizens.

    You are now asked,
in this vote, to stand at the forefront of perhaps the last bastion of
“acceptable” prejudice in our country.  You occupy, in some sense,
a position similar to that of the members of Congress who passed the
Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965.  You
have the opportunity and the duty to “do justice and love mercy” in
service to the citizens of the Commonwealth and your own
constituents.  Many residents of Somerville are gay and lesbian,
and they depend on you to do what is right for them, by asking the
Commonwealth (and only the Commonwealth) to provide them equal justice
under the law.

    One of the most
laudable contributions of our Commonwealth to the nation has been that
we have sought to keep religious bodies and the institutions of the
government from entanglement with one another; it was our venerable
forebear John Adams who wrote the original Massachusetts Constitution,
which included guarantees of free speech, free press, and the
separation of churches and the state.  It seems clear, however,
that many of our fellow citizens fail to understand the differences
between civil marriages and religious marriages.  Although we call
the two institutions by the same name – “marriage” – they are, in fact,
quite different.  As regards the state, marriage is a set of legal
arrangements that bind two people together in chosen kinship and
property; as regards a church, marriage is a sacrament of recognizing
the blessing of love that develops between two people in committed
relationship. The decision of the Supreme Judicial Court that stated
that the benefits of civil marriage must be extended to same sex
couples will force no church to perform or sanction same-sex
marriages.  We already, as a citizenry, understand that the intent
of two people to enter a lifelong union does not necessitate the
involvement of a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious body;
for cases such as these, we have relied upon the civil institution of
marriage.  No religious body can be forced to perform an
opposite-sex marriage if it objects to the union of the partners. 
Similarly, religious bodies will perform same-sex marriages only if and
when they decide that these religious marriages are acceptable to their
beliefs.  (I am aware of the very contested nature of these
discussions, as my own church, the Episcopal Church, of which I am a
committed member, has come to the brink of schism over this issue, as
we struggle to work out the consequences of same-sex
relationships.)  It is not the state’s duty to protect the
“sacred” nature of marriage – this is the duty of the church, and your
vote in this matter will not affect religion’s ability to define what
marriage means for each religious body.

    I must admit that
I do not have much confidence that my letter will do much to influence
the direction of your thinking, if you are considering voting in favor
of the aforementioned amendment.  My experience as a legislative
aide to California Senator Quentin L. Kopp and as a doctoral candidate
in political science at Harvard University have taught me that most
legislators have made up their mind on virtually all issues far in
advance of public debate.  But I write in the hope that my letter,
in combination with many others, can bolster you in casting your vote
against this unjust and unethical constitutional amendment.

Posted in Politicks on 9 February 2004 at 10:15 am by Nate