PFLAG // Blog // PFLAG Co-Chair Don Shockley’s Guest Commentary – Let’s Show the Nation that Tennessee Respects Loving Couples

September 21st, 2006 | Posted by PFLAG

As seen in The Tennessean on Thursday, 9/21/06
By: Don Shockley

It is widely assumed that passage of an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution will guarantee that no same gender marriages will take place in our state. But that is not exactly true.

Having spent my career as an ordained minister, I am keenly aware that there are two primary dimensions of a marriage: one spiritual and one legal. At its heart, a marriage is a deeply personal and spiritual covenant between two persons who love each other and pledge to spend their lives together.

In this primary sense of the word, we have had gay marriage for a long time and we will continue to have it for as long as liberty survives in America. An article in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics recently reported that there are same-gender couples living in 99 percent of the counties in America.

Same-gender couples are raising children in 96 percent of all U.S. counties. This information is from the federal census of 2000.

So we are not being asked to decide if such families will be allowed to exist in Tennessee. They are here in great numbers today, and they will be here in great numbers tomorrow.

The question before us is the question of fairness. Existing state laws do not permit families headed by same-gender couples to be married in the legal sense of the term. Consequently, they are not eligible for the many protections and benefits that legally married couples and their children enjoy.

For example, if your same-sex partner of many years or one of your children is in a health crisis, you are not eligible to take time off from your job under the Family and Medical leave Act. If your partner dies, you must pay the full amount of the estate tax. These are but two of the hundreds of benefits denied to same-gender couples and their families.

Some may think that since these disparities have existed for a long time, amending the state constitution won’t make any difference. But that also is not exactly true. Something will definitely change if the amendment passes.

We will have declared in our most basic covenant that some people are second-class citizens just because of who they are.

If the amendment passes, thousands of Tennesseans in all walks of life will receive a collective slap in the face from their fellow citizens. This group will include not just gays and lesbians but folks such as myself who are their parents.

As a retired United Methodist minister, I know very well that many people think the Bible requires them to oppose equality for gay and lesbian people. But the Bible does not know anything about sexual orientation; it has only been in the last hundred years or so that we have come to understand that to be gay or straight is not a choice.

Searching out prohibitions is not a good approach to the Bible in any case. It is much better to be guided by its primary message: We are to love God and treat other people the way we would like to be treated.

In November, my wife and I will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary. Our life together continues to be blessed by our three children, their spouses and partners, and three grandchildren. The presence in our immediate and extended families of homosexually oriented folks and their partners has done nothing but enrich and strengthen the bonds of love and respect among us. Our marriage has meant so much to us that we want others, now denied the legal protections that strengthen marriage and family life, to enjoy all the blessings that have been ours for so long.

How wonderful it would be if the people of Tennessee decided to lead America away from the division and bitterness that now spoil our sense that we are one people. We can start that process by saying NO to the amendment to write discrimination into our state constitution.

If the proposed amendment is defeated, same-gender civil marriages will still be illegal in Tennessee. But our vote against the amendment will send a message to the rest of America: Down here, everybody is somebody.

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