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Diane W. Mufson: Allowing gay marriage will not destroy our nation

Jul. 22, 2009 @ 01:28 PM

While looking for a book on Amazon.com, I became sidetracked and found an interesting review of a book on "miscegenation," meaning laws which restricted interracial marriage in this country.

The book, "What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America," by Peggy Pascoe, a history professor at the University of Oregon, addresses the events occurring over many years when marriage between African-Americans and Caucasians (whites) was legally prohibited solely because of race.

The idea of miscegenation also raises a basic question. Who should legally be permitted to marry whom in this nation? The question of the legality of interracial marriage is now passé. The current controversial marital issue is gay marriage. Sometime in the future it will likely be resolved as was the race issue. And when it is, we will find that gay marriage won't destroy our nation.

In 2004 I wrote a column with a similar title. I expected an outpouring of negative responses but received the opposite. Many of the comments came from straight parents who watched as their gay offspring not only contended with prejudice, but sought permanent legal relationships.

In the recent years there have been some dramatic changes in the gay-marriage landscape. Most states, including West Virginia, have adopted the 1996 Congressional "In Defense of Marriage Act" making same-sex marriages illegal.

However, six states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- have passed laws permitting same-sex marriage. No noticeable negative effects regarding family life, work, employment or health have occurred in these states as compared with the rest of the nation.

Some states, including West Virginia, have had groups lobbying their legislatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ask voters to ban gay marriage. The Herald-Dispatch recently polled its Internet readers on this and 52 percent of the 405 voters were not in favor of any state constitutional changes, suggesting that either people feel the Defense of Marriage Act is sufficient or they are not against gay marriage.

Five years ago I noted that some social and religious attitudes take a very long time to change. It took almost four centuries for the dominant power in Europe, the church, to admit that Copernicus and Galileo were correct in saying that the earth revolved around the sun.

And it was less than 100 years ago that American males were insisting that women shouldn't have the right to vote.

Gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals comprise about 5 to 10 percent of the population and have always been part of our nation and all others (no matter what the president of Iran says). They will always be, and not because they chose this way of life.

This group of people still wants the same thing that most heterosexuals seek: a close, permanent relationship with the protection of the rules and privileges provided by marriage.

The United States isn't ready to recognize same-sex marriage en masse, but more states will eventually accept it. It took from 1664 to 1967 for the Supreme Court to overturn the original miscegenation laws. Alabama waited until 2000 to remove its restrictions from its state constitution.

Not everyone will agree that gays should be entitled to legal marriage status. But time is on the side of this quest. It may take many years to happen, as do most other value issue changes. But when it does occur, we will find that same-sex marriage will not destroy our nation.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist in Huntington. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her e-mail is dwmufson@comcast.net.