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Gay or Straight, Marriage is Good
by Thomas M. Keane Jr., Boston City Councilmember
© 1998, Thomas M. Keane Jr.

The institution of marriage is about to collapse. And itís my fault.

Or so say opponents of Bostonís domestic partnership legislation.

Written by me and approved by the City Council on a 9-4 vote, the legislation has been stalled before the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The speaker of the House, Thomas Finneran, held up a vote, referring the legislation to the Supreme Judicial Court for review.

The court recently gave the proposed law a clean bill of health. It is now back before the House, and it deserves immediate approval. If not, Iíll make sure the City Council will take it up again this summer.

On its face the legislation doesnít do much. It extends spousal health benefits to the handful of city workers who are gay and have registered as couples under Bostonís domestic partnership ordinance. Probably only a few dozen people will be directly affected by it.

But the controversy the legislation has created isnít really about extending health benefits to a new group of workers. It runs far deeper. Itís a matter of valuing the diversity in our community; itís a matter of justice.

When heterosexuals choose to commit themselves to a long-term relationship, civil society acknowledges that relationship and calls it marriage. Marriage is an important and serious institution. When heterosexuals marry, we take their union seriously. We provide many incentives for them to stay together, including special tax treatment, spousal benefits, and the like. We provide strong sanctions should they decide to divorce.

When one looks at how we treat marriage, itís quite clear: We want people to get married. There are good reasons for that. Marriage provides stability not only for couples, but for communities. It is arguably one of the most critical building blocks upon which our society is based.

However, gay men and lesbians cannot get married. Why not?

Is it because they cannot (conventionally) have children? If so, then why do we permit marriages where couples are infertile or too old to have children?

Is it because they are incapable of entering into long-term relationships? Plainly not. Oneís sexual orientation does not determine oneís capacity for monogamy (or promiscuity). Indeed, I know many gay and lesbian couples whose relationships have endured for decades.

Is it because we would prefer gays to be promiscuous instead of monogamous?

Is it because we would prefer gay relationships to be short-lived rather than long term? I hope not.

The only remaining objection to domestic partnerships and gay marriages ultimately comes down to some notion that it undermines straight marriage. Somehow, the argument runs, permitting gays to marry degrades the notion of marriage itself.

So, back to the original question. Is my marriage hurt by domestic partnerships? Is my marriage hurt by gay marriage?

Not at all. When gays and lesbians argue that they want to marry, they are arguing on behalf of marriage itself. They are arguing that it is such a desirable institution that it should be extended to them as well. The notion of gay marriage does not mock the institution of marriage. It exalts it.

This July 21 marks the 14th year my wife and I have been married. Itís a good institution ó so good, it should be extended to all.

Thomas M. Keane, Jr.
441 Stuart St., Boston, MA 02116

Councilmember Keane was a candidate for U.S. Congress
in the September 1998 election in Massachusettsí 8th district.

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