The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday January 29th

U.S. Government Cannot Deny Basic Civil Rights to Citizens

And for most people, that's a dream that will most likely come true.

But not for others.

Same-sex marriages are far from a reality in this country. And the tide does not seem to be turning in favor of them. As recently as the last November, voters in Nebraska and Nevada overwhelmingly voted in favor of a "Defense of Marriage" act that bound the state to recognize only unions between men and women.

Why must marriage be "defended" from homosexuals?

I do not believe the government should recognize marriage at all. Marriage should be a religious, spiritual or personal commitment and bond between two individuals. I do not need the government's seal of approval on my relationship.

But that position is too radical for most people. Besides, the institution of marriage has become so intertwined in our social structure and legal system that it would be an immense undertaking to amputate it.

So I turn to the injustice of excluding a group of individuals from enjoying the benefits of marriage. Namely, same-sex couples.

As it stands now, the government is actively and willingly discriminating against homosexuals - denying them a right that all heterosexuals enjoy.

And it is no small right.

In 1996, when "Defense of Marriage" laws were springing up, the General Accounting Office of the federal government did a study. In it, they found that there were 1,049 federal laws that specifically affected married couples. That's 1,049 rights denied to gays and lesbians. And the number has undoubtedly grown in the last five years.

What is the rationale behind this blatant discrimination?

As with most of our past civil rights abuses, we tend to look at homosexuals as a lower rung of society's hierarchy.

Yet their money is good enough for our federal government to collect in taxes -- money that is later spent in programs like Social Security, which does not recognize same-sex partnerships when it comes to benefits, and the military with its ridiculous and demeaning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. True, we all pay for things via the government that we do not believe in. But do you pay for things that deny or shame who you are as a person, such as these examples do to sexuality?

The people who seem most frightened by same-sex marriages are the so-called "moral majority." These staunch conservatives and religious leaders preach against sinful acts such as homosexuality (while committing sins on their own accord ...) and do their best to regulate what we do in our bedrooms and our private lives.

They defend traditional marriage by saying that allowing same-sex couples to join their ranks would ruin the "sanctity" of the institution.

I hate to tell you, but the sanctity of marriage is long gone. We have "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" alongside 24-hour drive-in wedding chapels in Las Vegas. We have astronomical rates of divorce, child abuse and domestic violence. If you want to restore the sanctity of marriage, focus attention and resources on those problems. I assure you that they are the root of more of our social ills than homosexuals are.

Allowing gays and lesbians to enter into a legal union would not tear asunder the pillars that hold our society together. In fact, it would help strengthen them by recognizing every couple's love and not stigmatizing one group. Same-sex marriages would not subvert the nature of marriage. The notion is ridiculous yet validates the bigotry toward homosexuals.

Religious denominations do not have to allow same-sex marriages in their places of worship if they choose. It's their right.

But the federal government does not have that same right. It is bound to uphold the basic civil rights of every individual. They cannot say it is wrong to discriminate against them in the workplace - then actively discriminate against their right to marry. Our society should not pick and choose which rights we give individuals.

It's all or nothing.

Jonathan Chaney is a junior political science major who is always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Reach him at jhchaney@email.unc.edu.

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