April 5, 2004

Buseck Lectures on Same-Sex Marriage

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Gary Buseck, legal director for Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil rights organization, spoke to members of the Cornell and Ithaca community on Friday regarding the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage. The lecture was hosted jointly by Cornell United Religious Work, Theocracy Watch, and the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy and was part of a symposium on the separation of church and state.

Following Buseck’s lecture, a panel of experts on the subject, including Buseck, answered questions from the audience. The panel consisted of Buseck, Prof. Anna Marie Smith, government, Ithaca City Attorney Martin A. Luster, and Lisa Maurer, director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services at Ithaca College.

Buseck explained the importance of making a distinction between government-sanctioned marriages and those sanctioned by a religion.

“We’re talking only about government-regulated civil marriage. Nothing that happens in any of this litigation ever could or is intended to change each religion’s choices as to whom it will marry and on what terms,” Buseck said, pointing out that many religions currently do not recognize cases in which people get divorced and then remarry different people.

Buseck’s discussion focused on the importance of obtaining the hundreds of benefits awarded exclusively to married couples, including hospital visitation, inheritance, power of attorney, and more.

“Lambda Legal has an information hotline that talks to thousands of couples a year, and there isn’t any doubt that at least half of those people’s problems would go away instantly if they were married,” he said.

After Buseck’s lecture, the panel addressed questions from audience members.

Luster, whose office is currently working with LGBT couples to discuss their strategies for applying for marriage licenses, expressed his support for same-sex marriage.

“My wife and I celebrate our fortieth anniversary in a week. They have been forty wonderful years, and there is not a human being on Earth who, given the desire and opportunity and choice, should be denied that type of relationship,” he said.

Smith disagreed with the notion of marriage altogether.

“In my vision of utopian society, there would be no marriage for anybody — heterosexual, gay, whatever,” she said. “I think the state needs to get out of this aspect of our lives — get out of my bedroom, get out of my intimate life.”

People who attended the event were intrigued by Smith’s perspective.

“Of course she’s right in the larger picture,” said Judy Amorosa law ’05, who attended the event. “But there are also gay people with other opinions who may want to get married.”

Smith argued that marriage creates an exclusive group of people who are granted rights by virtue of their registration with the government, and suggested that many of these rights should be more universal.

“I didn’t join the queer movement to create moral hierarchies, to promote exclusionary policies, or to leave single people in the dark,” she said.

Matt Faiella law ’05, president of Lambda Law Students, the LGBT organization at Cornell Law School, was also interested in Smith’s ideas.

“I think it’s important that she shares with us some of her concerns. As we seek equality, we have to wonder what exactly we’re seeking,” he said.

Buseck outlined the reasons he believes marriage is important in society, and why same-sex marriage should be no different.

“The simple fact is that same-sex couples have wanted to get married for the same reasons as everyone else has — because they love each other, because they want to make a public expression of their love and commitment, because they need the same legal protections and want to take on the same legal obligation for the sake of each other and often for the sake of their children as well…the law is structured around marriage and is designed to strengthen men and women. As a result, marriage is a gateway to an enormous number of legal protections, responsibilities, and benefits,” he said.

Despite the controversy surrounding the issue, Buseck welcomed the opportunity for debate.

“What an incredible national conversation we’re having,” Buseck said.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith
Sun Staff Writer