The 14th Amendment is the most egalitarian section of the Constitution. With six simple words, it states that legal rights are to be conferred equally to all citizens. There have been tragic abuses of the law in direct contradiction to this amendment over the years. One still continues today: the denial of legal recognition to same-sex couples.
There are a number of reasons why marriage equality is the only way to provide the legal equality guaranteed by the Constitution. Marriage is a unique legal institution that confers very tangible legal benefits to couples, it is a right guaranteed to all other adult couples under the law, and it is incomparable in scope to civil unions.
One common argument against marriage equality for same-sex couples is that marriage is an ancient cultural and religious institution, and that the government has no authority to change its definition. This is incorrect. Marriage as an institution is not a uniform establishment: polygamy, child marriage, and racial requirements have all been edited out of the American legal definition of marriage. The government has chosen responsible, egalitarian definitions for marriage that best suit the diversity and needs of our citizens. Additionally, the government has made marriage something that is more than simply a religious or cultural tradition. It is now a legal establishment. The government has the right to establish standards for any of its own institutions. Religious marriage is a cultural tradition that the state has no right to interfere with. Legal marriage, however, must be open to all citizens in a non-discriminatory manner. Perhaps the best solution to the issue is to separate legal marriage from religious marriage entirely by establishing a new system for the government to recognize couples. This is not the best solution, however. All it does is play to semantics issues and restart a system that has been largely successful in providing a framework for stable, prosperous families.
What are the legal rights conferred exclusively to married couples? Among other things, tax cuts, hospital visitation rights, and citizenship fast-tracks are guaranteed only to couples that are legally wed. The same is true for many legal rights regarding the sharing and division of property and workplace rights, such as insurance benefits for partners and medical leave rights. These protections extend far beyond the religious and cultural institution of marriage that confers recognition in name only. These protections are being denied to countless same-sex couples, many of which have been together for decades. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, legally-recognized marriages are often denied to these couples based on the wrongful beliefs that homosexuals are less capable of raising children, more likely to promulgate sexually-transmitted diseases, and less capable of maintaining long-term loving relationships than heterosexuals.
Some individuals have called for same-sex couples to be offered rights through civil unions, or through the laws of their respective states. These options do not confer the constitutionally-guaranteed protections of federal marriage rights, however. Civil unions are not recognized outside of the state where they are granted. This means that the hour a same-sex couple leaves their home state, they lose their legal protections. Freedom of movement and the ability to choose where to live are deeply impeded by this system. The same applies to the idea that states alone can choose what marriages to recognize. It is obscene that a couple can lose legal rights simply by crossing the border into another state. Federal marriage equality is the only way to ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, are offered equal protections.
Marriage equality for same-sex couples is necessary in this country to ensure that all citizens have equal legal rights and protections. It is unacceptable and misinformed to confuse the moral debate over marriage with the legal debate. It is also unacceptable to believe that marriage is not a discriminatory institution as it currently stands, or that the issue can be solved without offering full marriage equality. There is no compelling reason to deny same-sex couples the right to wed.
Marriage equality is the only full equality.