Leon Worden

Same-sex marriage? Think it through!

Leon Worden · July 17, 1996

"Marriage is a personal relationship arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman. . . . Any marriage contracted outside this state between individuals of the same gender is not valid in this state."

Two little sentences. That's all it was.

When I printed the bill off of the World Wide Web last week, after the State Senate finished dickering with it, it had turned into a half-inch thick pile of legalistic gobbledygook about "domestic partnerships."

The Senate had undermined the very institution of marriage through an arrangement where either member of a state-registered "partnership" -- man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, whatever -- could terminate the relationship by simply walking away.

No sticky legal proceedings, no incentive to stay together, no commitment. All the privileges of marriage, without the responsibilities.

In one fell swoop, the State of California would supplant an institution that humans have held sacrosanct for millennia.

The bill has little chance of becoming law in its present form. Governor Wilson won't sign it. He vetoed a similar bill by Assembly Democrat Richard Katz when it crossed his desk last session.

This isn't at all what Pete Knight had in mind when he wrote those two little sentences a few months ago. Quite the opposite. Our local Assemblyman wanted to make sure California doesn't recognize same-sex marriages that are consecrated here or anywhere else. A court panel in Hawaii will soon decide if that state will be the first to OK them.

While California hems and haws, Knight's original bill has already been copied and passed by 15 state legislatures across the Union.

Even Bill Clinton may be jumping on the bandwagon. A spokesman last week said the president will sign a federal version of Knight's bill if it comes to him "in the right form," whatever that means.

As it stands, the proposed federal legislation identifies marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but it doesn't prevent states from recognizing same-sex partnerships, if they so choose. And it doesn't trample anyone's existing rights or stop same-sex partners from naming each other as beneficiaries on life insurance policies. It merely codifies the current practice of restricting to husbands and wives the spousal benefits under Social Security, Medicare and other cash-strapped, publicly-funded federal programs.

Knight wants the same thing at the state level.

I caught up with the two-term legislator over the weekend, home on leave as the wars in Sacramento cool off for a couple of weeks.

"The big thing people are missing is that three or four judges in Hawaii are forcing a significant change in public policy on the whole country," Knight says. "It's a travesty. If the country wants to give same-sex marriage the same status as that of heterosexual marriage, then the country should debate it openly and not have it thrust upon us through the back door. The overwhelming vote in Congress shows how much the country is against it."

Unlike Assemblyman Katz' domestic partnership legislation, the pending Hawaiian law makes same-sex marriage exactly the same as any other marriage. Without some form of Knight's bill, California would be bound to recognize those marriages.

"If we sanction same-sex marriage, we will have moved from a position of tolerating homosexuality to promoting it. We would be giving it the same preferred status as heterosexual marriage. We will have taken away the primary justification for the state's involvement in marriage -- which is to promote a stable environment for the procreation and rearing of children."

"Think of what it would mean to our public schools. They'd have to teach that heterosexual and same-sex marriages are on an equal par."

"It would be a big blow to business, too," Knight adds. "It would force all companies that provide benefits to married couples to also provide benefits to same-sex couples. It would be just one more mandate that tends to drive business out of California."

Knight stresses that homosexuality is not the issue. It's a matter of a monumental change in public policy being sprung on the public, without giving the public sufficient time to consider all the ramifications and debate the issue thoroughly.

Let's say the public decided, after much discussion, to condone same-sex marriage. What else should be considered? Knight says he was on a radio show when a caller suggested couples should be able to marry a third person if they all love each other.

"The caller had a point. If we allow same-sex marriage, why not polygamy? And why not let this man marry this boy? You've already established the precedent that marriage is no longer a singular contract between one man and one woman."

Knight intends to get his bill changed back to its original form when it reaches Senate Appropriations or, failing that, the Senate floor.

"We still have two or three opportunities to change it. If it stays like it is, we'll kill it. We've said all along we won't take any amendments."

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.

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