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Fear clouds gay marriage issue


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Illustration by Mike Padilla
By Dan Post
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 17, 2005
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What are people afraid of, when it comes to allowing same-sex marriages?

Pose this question to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and rarely will you get an answer. That's because there is no good answer. Fears that gay marriage equals moral decadence are unrealistic, close-minded and prejudiced. These fears are based in religious propaganda and fanaticism and get in the way of reasoned analysis.

Stonewall Democrats, the National Organization for Women and a multitude of others representing open-mindedness in sexual attitudes were at a rally downtown on Sunday to consider the effects of such fears. The atmosphere at the rally was self-congratulatory, enthusiastic and equally apprehensive.

All for what?

A long fight looms for these oft-oppressed sexual minorities as the state of Arizona begins to consider a gay marriage ban amendment. Last month, the Center for Arizona Policy sponsored an initiative to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriages. Their goal is to collect the 186,000 signatures required for referendum in the 2006 state general election.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano will be up for re-election on this same election day. Fear of Napolitano's re-election has something to do with this.

Unfortunately the ultra-politicization of this issue has turned it into a rudimentary and fear-laden God vs. Gays dilemma. Christians believe that God condemns homosexuality. They are scared that society's moral decline means they won't go to heaven (see the CAP Web site, www.azpolicy.org, where this belief is actively prescribed).

Arguing that God is on their side, some in the LGBT community believe that mere humans shouldn't be making normative judgments.

Who is right here? Who can decide which side is correct? The majority's opinion? The pope? The president? Instead of endlessly debating points of faith, a more effective policy analysis would include a sensible examination of the laws, rights and economics concerning the matter. This takes all the fear away.

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Dan Post
Columnist

Marriage comes with benefits, but also social obligations that provide a useful framework for looking at the economics of the issue. One commonly overlooked economic policy in this debate is the marriage penalty. This marriage obligation defines that when married people's incomes are pooled together, the total combined income determines the couple's tax bracket. If two people each with a $40,000-per-year income get married, their total combined income places them into a higher tax bracket.

According to James Alm, the chair of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, freeing gays to get married could bring in more than $1 billion to the tax base in accordance with this marriage penalty. This number is probably grossly underestimated because if homosexuality were more socially acceptable more people would be likely to enter into homosexual relationships and get married. There would be a boost to the wedding industry, tourism (honeymoons anyone?), happiness and spending, and therefore an increase in sales tax revenues. What is scary about this? Legalize gay marriage and tax revenues go up.

But the heart of this issue is not wrapped up in taxes and economic performance. It's really about fear that whole communities feel when they are discriminated against in a system that is supposed to stop that from happening, a system that is supposed to stick up for equal rights.

At the rally on Sunday, human rights and LGBT equality were frequently invoked in support of same-sex marriage. Speaker after speaker gave emotional pleas for civil rights and the end to discrimination.

Many of the LGBT community leaders in attendance expressed similar concerns. Paula Bachman-Williams, of the Tucson Chapter of the National Organization of Women, feels that a state denying basic rights to sexual minorities is disrespectful and unfair.

Her concerns are accurate. And in this country, we have laws to protect such concerns. In fact, this country was founded on a belief that the state cannot persecute a minority group.

Here's a famous line from the 14th Amendment in support:

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

It's as simple as that. If same-sex marriage bans aren't a state-sponsored denial of equal protection, then what is?

When passions get flaring about God and politics, the facts become ignored. Fear takes over, reason and policy are discarded, and society becomes paralyzed into regression. If enacted, legislation condoning same-sex marriage really wouldn't affect any straight people other than to reduce their tax burden. And it would increase the overall life, liberty and happiness of the LGBT community. Is that something to be feared?

Dan Post is an anthropology and ecology senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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