Regardless of what we believe about sexual morality, those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender must be treated with the dignity and compassion due them as members of the human family. This is without exception and justice demands it.
This means we need to speak up for them during family dinners or even at church picnics. We might have to lovingly offer a rebuttal to suggestions that same-sex attracted people are somehow less deserving of our love and respect. This might create awkwardness, but it’s the right thing to do.
Our duty to defend those who are same-sex attracted, however, does not mean we must remain silent when other instances of injustice threaten to emerge.
Such an instance is happening in Alaska. Earlier this summer, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that property tax exemptions the state extends to married disabled veterans and seniors must also be extended to disabled veterans and seniors who are in committed same-sex relationships. Failure to do so “discriminates between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples,” the court ruled.
Why? Because, according to the court, a same-sex couple has a relationship similar to a married man and woman, only they can’t legally get married in Alaska. Their relationship is similar enough, the court claims, that distinguishing between the two for the sake of benefits is unjust discrimination.
If the court was right, and there were no differences between traditional heterosexual marriages and homosexual relationships, then treating the two relationships differently would be unjust. But the court is wrong in claiming they are similar. In fact, they are inherently different kinds of human relationships.
A married man and woman have a relationship that naturally and quite often gives rise to biological children, who they then have a right and obligation to rear, protect and care for. The fact that sexual intimacy in marriage naturally brings forth children who the parents must care for, distinguishes marriage from same-sex relationships that are necessarily infertile. This also explains why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize, promote and regulate it.
Even infertile married couples should be regarded differently than same-sex couples, because the state cannot know the degree or permanence of the infertility without prying into the couple’s intimate private life. And the fact that some married couples may be infertile does not detract from the fact that the vast majority of marriages do, at some point, give rise to extremely dependent infant children. Hence, the Alaska Supreme Court is wrong to say married couples in Alaska are in similar relationships to same-sex couples.
This does not automatically mean that the state is justified in extending property tax exemptions to disabled veterans and seniors who are married, while excluding those who are unmarried from such benefits. We would have to know the rationale behind the property exemption policy in order to know whether it was unjust.
What is unjust, however, is for the court to privilege same-sex domestic partnerships that are of a sexual nature while excluding those partnerships that are non-sexual.
It may well be the case that Alaska should grant same-sex domestic partners certain legal benefits if they provide one another with support and care. Two people of the same sex may live together, support each other, share domestic responsibilities. Perhaps they are life-long friends or widowers who trust each other more than anyone else in the world. If one falls ill he may want the other to have hospital visitation rights and hold his medical power of attorney. Upon death each may want the other living partner to inherit their joint assets. It would be unjust to withhold these benefits from them simply because they were not intimate sexually.
While claiming to remove unjust discrimination from Alaska’s legal system, the high court’s decision has only codified discrimination against same-sex domestic partners who are not romantically involved.
The writer is editor of the Catholic Anchor, the official newspaper and news website of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.