Gay marriage called into question

Two AU professors weigh in on the Massachussetts court ruling

School of Communication professor Rodger Streitmatter is worried about the recent ruling by Massachusetts' highest court granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.

"I'm a little bit concerned that it will change from being a human rights issue into a political football," he said.

This issue has already been passed from the East Coast to the West. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom opened City Hall from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Monday and ordered the county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples during this time. He did this in order to process as many gay marriages as possible before Tuesday, when a California Superior Court judge hears a challenge to same-sex marriages.

Streitmatter, whose areas of expertise include gay and lesbian journalism, said it would concern him if the marriage issue is politicized. He thinks this may happen if President Bush decides this issue will resonate with voters.

"It seems right now that President Bush is having some serious credibility issues," Streitmatter said, noting that Bush has been under question recently about his military service and reasons for going to war in Iraq.

"He's definitely slipping in the polls," Streitmatter said. "I think he's threatened by that."

Streitmatter also said that, according to polls, the majority of Americans are still opposed to gay marriage but supportive of some sort of benefits for same-sex couples. He is worried about the possibility of Bush turning to gay marriage as a topic to elevate to a significant issue in the next election.

He said it would all fit together, particularly if Sen. John Kerry is the Democratic nominee for president. Streitmatter pointed out that not only is Kerry from Massachusetts, but the Democratic National Convention is set to take place in Boston this summer.

William Leap, chair of the anthropology department and an expert on gay and lesbian issues, agreed that gay marriage is becoming a highly politicized issue.

"What has happened in Massachusetts, and what is happening in the right wing, is that marriage has become, whether we like it or not, a major battleground for gay and lesbian civil rights," Leap said. "While I may not care about marriage, I care about it politically very much."

Streitmatter said while civil unions can be seen as primarily a civil rights issue, when marriage is involved there is more to be considered. Even though it is a legal contract, it is also a religious sacrament, so it becomes a religious issue, he said.

Bush recently spoke in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict marriage to unions between a man and a woman.

"It just doesn't seem to me that the Constitution is the kind of place to make that kind of determination," Streitmatter said.

Same-sex couples may apply for marriage licenses in Massachusetts by May 16, and according to Streitmatter, any change made by the state legislature or in the Constitution would be passed too late to intercept that date. A change in the Massachusetts Constitution, for example, would not go into effect until 2006.

"Same-sex couples are going to be getting married," he said. "I would say in the thousands."

Overall, Streitmatter is pleased with the ruling.

"Personally, I'm glad the decision was made," he said. "I certainly support the ruling of the Massachusetts court."

Streitmatter said that gradually, more and more people are supporting gay rights such as the concept of civil unions. "It's really just in the last few years that this issue has come on the national radar screen," he said.

Although Leap supports marriage rights, he said he doesn't think it is the biggest issue facing gays and lesbians in the United States.

"Workplace security, health care and issues of violence are a lot more important," he said.

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