Tony Perkins, the acting President of the Family Research Council and a staunch anti-gay marriage advocate, recently spoke with CNN Anchor Brooke Baldwin prior to lobbying members of Congress on Capitol Hill. He, along with other conservative anti-gay rights groups are pushing for a Federal Constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. When asked what motivates him to seek Congressional action, he stated that he and others believe that “allowing same sex couples to marry devalues marriage” as an institution. While being pressed by Baldwin on his personal beliefs, Perkins was asked whether he has ever stepped foot into a married gay couples home, or even sat down to discuss the issue with a same sex couple; his answer, “No, I haven’t.” He then deflected the conversation away from his personal experience with the LGBT community, which is apparently non-existent, to an argument of the issue being one simply of policy that does not consider personal feelings or civil rights. Baldwin responded by asking him if he was simply uncomfortable with gay Americans in general to which Perkins emphatically responded “no”. However, the discomfort in his voice and demeanor was obvious on the surface.
The Family Research Council and groups like it are not in favor of allowing civil unions for gay couples, a hard right position that diminishes their argument that the gay marriage debate is not about civil rights. Perkins knows that civil unions are simply contracts that have no bearing on traditional marriage and are not mentioned in any of the religious documents used to isolate the gay community from traditional marriage. Civil unions allow for basic hospital visitation rights for same sex couples and are largely symbolic in nature. However, when pressed to explain what exactly makes same sex relationships less valuable to them than opposite sex relationships, the fallback position for Perkins is that it’s about the kids and his religious freedom. To quote Perkins again: “Allowing same sex marriage takes away my religious freedom and I don’t want my kids being taught that same sex relationships have the same value as that of opposite sex couples.”
If ever there was an argument that screams of a violation of equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment, it is the argument that gay American relationships are of lesser value than those of straight Americans. After all, what should really matter is the word “American” when describing a citizen of the United States and the fundamental rights that go along with being designated as such. This country has already struggled through many of these same type of battles over equal treatment under the laws. Take rights for African Americans, women, and especially on point, allowing people of opposite races to marry each other. There will always be a segment of society who feels that minorities or those who are not like them are out to take something away from them. This time, the class of Americans being isolated is the gay community.
Ironically, allowing the gay community full marriage rights appears to have had a positive effect upon the divorce rate in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage, and Perkins and other groups have attempted to counter the numbers by saying that the decrease in divorce is due to the fact that marriage rates in that State are down because of the change in the law. But this argument makes no sense because the reduction in marriages is a nationwide phenomenon that is unrelated to divorce and much more likely the product of the economic times than a trend due to same sex couples tying the knot.
When all of the cards are on the table, there appears to be nothing more than fear of co-existing equally with homosexuals driving Perkins and other social conservatives to lobby for a Constitutional amendment. These groups have clearly not spent any time with the individuals whose fundamental rights they want to suppress. There is no compelling interest unrelated to religious interpretation that drives their efforts. If marriage is indeed a recognized fundamental right subject to strict scrutiny by the courts, then the Family Research Council and other groups around the country have simply not met their burden of showing how any interest, other than disapproval of gay Americans, drives the movement to define marriage and to exclude a class of citizens from existing on an equal playing field.
Gay marriage is a civil rights issue, regardless of how it is framed by opposition groups, and as with the right to vote, desegregation, and interracial marriage, eventually allowing gay couples to marry, who are no different than any other citizen, will be considered a no-brainer. The modern GOP, Tony Perkins, and those who continue to want to segment society into classes of differing value, are simply on the wrong side of history.