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August 8, 2003

Are We Going To Be Fair Or Not?

John W. Ashbury

Nothing that will be written here will solve this problem. However, the issue of gay rights and gay marriage presents some very interesting contradictions in today's society.

Locally, the discussion has risen again over whether or not homosexuals - both male and female - should be protected in employment, housing and accommodations. The county's Human Relations Commission has asked the county commissioners to request protection for them from the county's delegation to The General Assembly.

It is likely to go down to ignominious defeat at the hands of the delegation should the HRC request get past the commissions in the first place.

What is difficult to understand is how either the commissioners, or the members of the delegation, can ignore the fact that the HRC is asking that not only homosexuals be protected, but also heterosexuals and bisexuals as well. The request is to add "sexual orientation" to the classes of people protected from discrimination. State law defines this phrase to include all three.

It must be pointed out that state law already includes this phrase. The problem is that if someone feels discriminated against on this basis, then the complaint must be filed with the state, and all hearings in the matter are held in Baltimore. An additional inconvenience to say the least.

The strongest, and most vocal, opposition comes from the so-called religious right. And therein lies the rub.

The teachings of Jesus Christ demonstrate that we should treat each other as we ourselves want to be treated and that through Him, all sins are forgiven and everyone can receive salvation and acceptance into the kingdom of Heaven.

Yet we hear all too often that homosexuals are condemned to Hell because of their earthly sexual acts. Didn't Jesus forgive all, no matter the transgression? Didn't He say that all who believe in Him shall have everlasting life? He didn't say everlasting life in Hell.

The political turmoil created by both sides of this issue ignores the basic principal of common decency. We condemn gays and lesbians to a life as secondary citizens when we deny them the rights and privileges guaranteed to us by laws which have been generally promulgated and sanctioned by some religious organization.

Certainly marriage is sanctioned by both civil and religious organizations. To marry in this state one must obtain a license from the government, which license must be signed by a priest, rabbi or minister, or by a clerk of the court.

Either way, these couples are guaranteed certain rights and privileges BY LAW.

Among these are the rights to inherit, to make medical decisions, to obtain social security benefits, etc. Not so with gay couples, some of whom have been in committed relationships for far longer that the average "legal" marriages in this country.

In recent months a local gay man underwent major surgery. It was delicate and serious. Yet when he was in the recovery room after several hours of surgery, his partner of nearly 10 years was not allowed to visit him there. The "spouses" of other patients were escorted into recovery by hospital personnel.

This is a basic human right - the right to be comforted by loved ones in times of crisis - that was denied to these men, who just happen to be gay. And there even exists, in this case, a power of attorney granting both parties the right to make health and financial decisions for the other. But the hospital ignored it.

Gay couples are often ostracized by both families. In a case that drew national attention a year or so ago, a woman who have been with her lesbian partner for more than 40 years, was passed over in medical decisions for her loved one in favor of a brother of the sick woman who hadn't spoken to his sister in more than 30 years.

What knowledge would he have about his sister's wishes? Likely none! Yet the woman who knew her best, who loved her far longer than her brother had, was shut out from the most important decision in her partner's life.

This brings up another problem within the law for committed gay men and women. If a person bequeaths all of his or her earthly possession to a gay partner, a blood relative can easily challenge that will, and, in Maryland, have a pretty good chance of overturning the deceased's wishes. That hardly seems fair.

Objections espoused by many people center on the supposition that being gay is a lifestyle choice. What makes no sense here is why anyone would choose to be gay knowing the societal opposition, the ridicule, the discrimination, and downright nasty comments they will endure? That, too, makes no sense.

Besides, aren't religious affiliations a matter of choice? I have a friend who changes churches at the drop of a hat, yet he isn't discriminated against because of that.

We aren't allowed by law to discriminate against anyone because of their religious beliefs. Yet, because, they say, someone has "chosen to be gay," we should be allowed to "judge" them differently than everyone else.

Makes no sense!

In defending a woman accused of adultery and about to be stoned to death, Jesus said: "Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone."

Those who condemn homosexuality may have what they believe to be very good reasons for their positions. But if they truly follow the teachings of the one they call the Savior, then they will accept these people as simply different. Jesus will grant them salvation even though many who speak His name will not even forgive them. Makes saying The Lord's Prayer a little hypocritical doesn't it?

Perhaps man's laws can be adjusted to correct its inadequacies in dealing with gay men and women. Heterosexual men and women can marry with the blessings of the church. They can also do so with the blessings of the government without recognition by a church, synagogue or temple. Why can't gays and lesbians be accorded the same rights and privileges through a "civil union?"

There are many legal questions and issues that have not been addressed here. But if we want to be fair and impartial, as the law already requires us to be in most of our activities, then the same rights and privileges we enjoy should be accorded everyone, and not be based on one's sexuality.

What's the problem? Are we going to be fair or not?

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