Against the Amendment: Dale Carpenter

In a recent debate about same-sex marriage, Professors Dale Carpenter and Teresa Collett went face to face about the upcoming marriage amendment. Known for his support of GLBT equality, Carpenter is the Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School.   Though most people who are against the marriage amendment are fueled by personal experiences, Carpenter’s opinion adds substantial legal and logical reasoning to the debate.

First, Carpenter focuses on the constitutional problem with redefining marriage. According to Carpenter, the state’s constitutional view regarding marriage has not been changed or amended in over 150 years.  However, our understanding of marriage has evolved throughout time; for example, our society no longer defines a woman as the husband’s property through marriage. But the problem with this amendment is that passing the amendment would allow advocates for the preservation of marriage to end the debate with their assured victory. Carpenter also notes that this amendment acts as an anticipatory move; this amendment’s future lies in the hands of future possible decisions, and relying on future decisions is not a strong or smart constitutional move.

Carpenter states that this amendment “places in constitutional cement an issue that is very much in flux and is being debated around the country. We are still learning from the experience of other countries and other states that recognize same-sex marriages, so we should not cut short the debate in Minnesota.”

Carpenter reiterates the fact that same-sex marriage does not affect other marriages. To use this excuse is a cop-out for real problems with marriage (divorce, infidelity, dishonesty, etc.). Rather,   Carpenter hopes that people see same-sex marriages as REAL marriages, complete with the same benefits and problems as opposite-sex couples. For example, both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples must deal with employment problems, medical problems, relationship problems, and all couples need emotional and financial support from each other.  Same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples have the same needs for emotional support.  As Carpenter notes, same-sex couples “are doing the hard work of raising the next generation; in exchange they ask to be married. It is time for the government to get out of their way and recognize their freedom to marry.”

As with traditional marriage, same-sex marriage would ultimately strengthen families and build better, more stable relationships. Legally, same-sex couples would have the same rights as opposite-sex couples including visitation rights and health care. But on a deeper level, marriage equality would strengthen the bond between two loving individuals. Our society uses marriage to signify a commitment, both to the people entering a marriage and to the public who witness the union. Marriage also has a huge influence on the fidelity of the relationship because marriage is traditionally a permanent thing, causing more people to attempt to resolve their problems instead of simply calling it quits.

Carpenter notes that marriage isn’t just about reproduction, otherwise there would be many opposite-sex marriages that would not support the claim that marriage’s ultimate goal is reproduction. Also, Carpenter hopes to dispel the notion that same-sex marriage will hurt traditional marriage. He asks, “If sex is no longer a relevant substantive legal category within marriage, no longer defines the relations and rights one spouse to the other within marriage–then the question arises, why does it remain a definitional category, limiting who can enter marriage based on sex?”

It is important to note that society’s definition of marriage has changed over the years, most notably with regard to female equality and interracial marriage. Women are no longer seen as legal property of the husband. People can marry regardless of their race or ethnicity. The GLBT community isn’t large; adding a small percentage of same-sex marriages to the number of opposite-sex marriages would not rock the boat as much as opponents of marriage equality fear. Carpenter notes, “Same-Sex couples are not redefining marriage; they’re joining it.”

With regard to the belief that “children should have a mother and a father,” Carpenter doesn’t  see the logical connection between that statement and same-sex marriage. Carpenter notes that same-sex marriage doesn’t challenge the traditional family unit any more than adoptive families, blended families, or the use of contraception. He notes that there are no laws against same-sex couples raising children, dispelling the claim that same-sex parents are ultimately harmful to a child’s well-being.

Allowing the conversation on marriage equality to continue to a (hopefully) victorious end allows marriage to continue to be society’s standard, according to Carpenter. If people want to commit to a lasting relationship, raise kids, and reap the financial benefits allotted to married couples, they should be allowed to get married. Marriage would be the standard for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

As Carpenter simply states, “You can’t make the case for same-sex marriage without making the case for marriage.”

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