In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Same sex marriage is issue of love, fairness

Divorce is so common in my generation that it has become a joke among some of my friends to ask when someone delivers news that they’re getting married: “And against whom?”

So with that little ditty, I’ll bat right out of the conversation the sanctimonious pronouncements of conservatives who rile against gay marriage from a place of superiority. We heterosexuals have not excelled at marriage, so why should we even be entitled to judge the love and commitment of others?

Unfortunately, social change has seldom come from the heart of the masses. All ground-breaking and worthwhile change, whether it was reproductive rights for women or the racial integration of schools, has required some kind of high court mandate.

So, a loud bravo is in order for the six same-sex couples from South Florida who are suing the state for the fundamental right to marry — and have willingly put themselves in the limelight for the sake of a worthy cause.

“It’s just about love and fairness,” Elizabeth Schwartz, one of the attorneys representing the couples, told me on the emotional day last week when the case was filed.

Hearing her say that, such a simple but powerful concept, tugged at my heart.

As other Floridians have done, Liz and her partner, my friend and colleague Lydia Martin, went out of state to marry. They were married in Vermont last summer. I know a lot of heterosexual couples who would be envious of the strength of their union, the well-lived life they share.

But in legislatively crippled states like Florida, where not even progressive lawmakers are willing to test political waters and push the issue forward, the courts are the only recourse for same-sex couples.

Our conservative Legislature and governor would never make a single move to make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to enjoy all the emotional pleasures and legal protections that brought the rest of us to the altar to formalize our unions.

Not even if it’s the right thing to do.

Not even because extending the protection to a class of people can be life-saving.

In Florida, sexual orientation and race accounted for more than half of hate crimes, according to the attorney general’s office. Legal protection doesn’t change a bigot’s heart, but it sends a message that his/her bigotry is not condoned by society.

And that societal embrace does force, if not change a mind, at least a change of behavior. Sometimes the heart even catches up. It happened in states that fought against interracial marriage and school integration (although I can tell you from family experience that a white woman riding in a car with a black man in south Georgia still gets stopped by police and asked if she’s alright).

Our generation, hopefully, will see the legalization of same-sex marriage, not only in progressive states, but all over the land.

One way or another, the cards already are stacking in its favor in both polls and court decisions.

In a landmark 5-4 majority decision last June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 — a law that defines marriage as a union strictly for a man and woman. The court ruled that federal benefits could not be denied to same sex-couples whose marriages were recognized as legal in the states where they were performed.

The court didn’t outright grant a federal right to same-sex marriage, but it allowed those who live in states where same-sex marriage is legal, to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.

More importantly, the justices framed the issue as one of basic fairness and said DOMA placed “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages” and made “unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages.” In writing their opinions, the justices evoked impacting words like “personhood” and “human dignity.”

Likewise, Florida’s courts shouldn’t delay extending their protection to all of its citizens.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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