Revised figures now show that about 3,800 people died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many of whom were gay. But according to The Washington Post, the gay and lesbian partners of victims will not receive any of the billions of dollars available from relief organizations and the federal government. Unfortunately, because of current laws, committed same-sex partners are not eligible for mutual benefits. This situation is deplorable in a society that supposedly prides itself on guarantees of equality. These laws should be changed to make America’s promise of equality a reality.
Tuesday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) spoke to GW students of the progress of the gay rights movement in recent years, but he highlighted the fact that many Americans are unaware that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not against federal law. The denial of Sept. 11 relief funds based on the sexual orientation of the victims only serves to bring this injustice into a greater light.
The gay community is not seeking to undermine or fundamentally alter the institution of marriage, which is itself a tricky thing to pin down. Marriage is traditionally – and legally – defined as a union between a man and a woman. But that union functions much like a contract that can be dissolved in a process called divorce. And that contract carries with it certain significant benefits like inclusion in health and life insurance plans and tax incentives.
A civil union is a legal arrangement, much like a marriage performed by a judge or a mayor and not by a clergyman. By asking for equal rights under the law, all gays and lesbians want is the ability to enter into a legal contract similar to marriage that recognizes the commitment of their relationships and allows them to avail themselves of the special benefits legally recognized committed couples – married couples – now receive.
Currently, questions arise when insurance companies or relief organizations distribute money to gays who have lost a partner about the validity of their relationship. But with no way for same-sex couples to register their relationships with the government like married couples can, those questions are harder to answer. Adjusting the law to grant gays and lesbians the rights all other Americans enjoy is the just, practical and right thing to do.