Human rights can catch on, and on and on


BURLINGTON, Vt. -- This morning, I found my wife of 10 years packing her valise. "What are you doing," I asked.

"I'm leaving you, David," she told me.

"Is it because Vermont's civil union law, guaranteeing full benefits for committed same-sex partners, makes our traditional marriage completely meaningless?" I asked.

"Precisely," she said.

Vermont's civil union law took effect July 1, and within days there is plenty of evidence that the bill's more strident opponents were correct in their dire predictions. They said that traditional marriages would dissolve, and they were right: Since the bill passed, nearly half of Vermont's traditional marriages have been annulled.

Despite that my own marriage was solid, built on shared values, experiences and goals, it was completely destabilized by the radical thought that same-sex partners should enjoy benefits such as shared insurance coverage, inheritance rights and equal access to interior design.

Marriage was not the only thing to fall apart here in Vermont.

Organized religion has disappeared as well. The argument of the bill's opponents was a complex hermeneutic interpretation of God's will in Genesis: "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

Some of us tried, in vain, to argue that God made plenty of gay people, too. And that the bill does not promote sexual orientation but basic human rights. But to that, they in turn argued, cleverly, "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

In hindsight, we know they were right. Organized religion, like marriage, has been thoroughly destabi- lized. Throughout the Green Mountain state, churches, syna- gogues and mosques have fallen into disrepair. Or they have become gay discos.

Part of the opposition fo- cused on the fact that gays and lesbians cannot have children the same way heterosexuals can.

"Marriage is about children," said one opponent of the bill.

While they never had a bill opposing childless marriage, I'm sure they meant to and it just slipped their minds. Of course many gay and lesbian couples are also great parents. But that just destabilizes heterosexual parenthood.

We in support of civil union thought that the new law would simply enable gay partners to have a legal acknowledgment and protection of their social and spiritual commitments. But we should have learned from the past.

In Selma, Ala., in 1965, African-Americans won the right to vote in Alabama and then that right spread to other states. We saw then how infectious human rights can be. Let us beware: Human rights often lead to more human rights. And then where would we be?

David T. Z. Mindich is the chair of the Journalism Department of St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vt., and the author of "Just the Facts: How 'Objectivity' Came to Define American Journalism" (NYU Press, 1998). He lives in Burlington with his wife and children.

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