Marriage is a right. The courts have ruled as much. But it is a right within the statutory limits set by the state. Those limitations can and do change with society’s shifting moral norms. Unions our ancestors forbid and considered immoral are now accepted, admired and encouraged and the prohibitions of the past seem odd or hurtful. Our standard of acceptance is constantly changing, and our tradition of marriage changes with it. It is time again to recognize that, and expand the right of marriage to include same-sex couples. Vote to accept Referendum 74, and affirm the rights of marriage our elected representatives granted. Fairness and our sense of justice should encourage us to do so.
This is surely a major change, but not one forced on society. Our commonly held moral values are not being upended. We have not been ordered by a court to change against the majority will. Same-sex couples have advanced in public acceptance to a point considered improbable only a few years ago. This year they reached a point where the majority of our Legislature and our governor agreed they deserved the same rights as heterosexual couples, and inclusion in the same civic institutions the rest of us take for granted. There no longer was a “rational basis” for denying equality. What is normal now is different from norms past. The fears of society were for the majority dispelled.
Those fears live on, but need not. If the institution of marriage is weakened it will not be for the inclusion of same-sex couples, but by the changing outlook and expectations of the heterosexuals before them. Divorce once was rare and widely discouraged by both state and religion. It is now common and mostly accepted. Single parenthood once shunned is now routine. Nearly half of adults over age 18 are unmarried, the highest percentage in history. Child-rearing always is raised as an issue but there is no convincing evidence that same-sex couples will do poorly or do any harm. Our children, it must be said, face many perils among less-than-committed heterosexuals. Same-sex marriage will not add to their troubles.
Marriage is still important. It promotes commitment, unity, stability, devotion and mutual support. Those are qualities society should encourage for all couples, not held in exclusivity. Same-sex marriage is a state sanction. Its existence will not challenge the teaching and practice of any religious faith. Religions have explicit protections in the law and need not change their standards for what unions they wish to sanctify. The standards for heterosexual marriage and its dissolution already differ between law and faith, and between faith and faith. This is no different.
It is part of the process of change. Society has accepted same-sex couples. It has accepted their existence and affirmed their legal rights. There is no reason not to move to the next step, and accept their equality. Approve Referendum 74.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.