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Speaker Calls for Equal Rights for Gay Couples
March 6, 2000

Prohibiting same-sex marriages denies gays and lesbians an essential part of their citizenship, a Colby College philosophy professor told a UConn audience during the first Marsha Lilien Gladstein Human Rights Lecture.

The series results from a $500,000 gift from Gary S. Gladstein - a 1966 UConn economics graduate - to create a visiting professorship in human rights in honor of his late wife, who died in 1995. The first visiting professor is expected to be named soon for the fall semester.

Cheshire Calhoun, the inaugural speaker in the lecture series, spoke on "Lesbian and Gay Politics: Expanding Our Vision of the Human Rights That Matter."

She said the law in America gives marriage a special status and, as a result, gays and lesbians are assigned a lesser status. "Only heterosexual marriage and families have a special status," she said. "If gays and lesbians are to be equal citizens they need an equally protected private sphere."

Even under so-called domestic partnership status, they would not be equal, she contended: "That's a created relationship. Marriage is considered a pre-political institution. We as a culture think marriage is a special institution. Same-sex partners are told that their union is not a part of our social bedrock."

Calhoun said that even if states were to create domestic partner laws, same-sex couples would not have the rights of married couples, such as joint tax returns or full access to benefits.

She said although lesbians and gays, like other minority groups, would benefit from legal protection of their rights, the position they occupy in society is not analogous to that of women or racial minorities: "Gays and lesbians don't occupy any particular location in society. We are everywhere. We're not treated as lesbians or gays unless we say so. Otherwise, we will be considered heterosexuals. We are not subordinated into a disadvantaged identification like race or women in society."

Calhoun said gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexuals to influence future generations: "Lesbians and gays are systematically denied the right to nurture and teach children - including their own," she said. "The idea that gays and lesbians are bad for children has a long history."

She said that when homosexuals were first defined in the 1800s, they were viewed as "gender reversions.

"That helped form the idea that they were bad for children. Psychologists also said that situational factors could turn people from heterosexuals to homosexuals. People feared they could turn heterosexual children into homosexuals."

Calhoun also said psychological theories in the 1950s and 1960s contended that lesbians and gays were obsessed with sex: "That view contended that we couldn't expect lesbians and gays to provide the long-term family relationship that children need."

Calhoun said laws that prohibit gay and lesbian marriages "hand to heterosexuals the exclusive ability to shape our social future.

"Lesbians and gays won't be fully equal," she said, "until they can say who the future generation will be."

The next Marsha Lilien Gladstein Human Rights Lecture will take place on Thursday, March 9, at 4:30 p.m., in the Class of '47 Room in Homer Babbidge Library. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im of Emory University will give a lecture on "An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Academic Study of Human Rights."

Ken Ross