Backward Clods | Letters | Chicago Reader

Backward Clods 

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Dear Editor:

I disagree with Michael Miner's conclusion ("Strife After Death," January 23, 1998) that the Chicago Tribune did not violate Timothy Marback's human rights in refusing to describe his same-sex marriage in the same manner as it described the marriages of his straight siblings. To be sure, this human rights violation does not begin with the Tribune but with American law at present. That law recognizes the right to marry as a "vital personal right essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness," one of the "basic civil rights of man" and a "fundamental freedom"--Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967). Right now, however, U.S. law denies this right to gays and lesbians. From this great injustice, many smaller injustices and indignities follow, both in life and, in the case of obituaries, even after death. This is why the Tribune's lawyer can claim that the Tribune is only trying to be "truthful" and "legally accurate."

As late as the 1960s, the laws of certain states forbade interracial marriages. Thus, a newspaper in those states might have been within its legal rights to refuse to mention a spouse of a different race in a family's obituary. That newspaper may have been within its legal rights in asking for proof that all spouses were of the same race. It may have had the First Amendment right to print the name of a spouse of a different race only with modifying language, as in "Tom (Jane, wife in certain states)" or "illegal wife" or whatever. These things, too, could have been defended as "truthful" and "legally accurate" and designed not to lose readers.

Today, however, we see the moral bankruptcy of this former "legal" distinction. We understand how this demeans and offends people by treating their relationships as less worthy. We know that, while these former distinctions were authorized by law, they were a denial of basic human rights. We see this so clearly today because legal rights ultimately caught up to human rights on this issue.

Perhaps the future will bring such clarity on the issue of gay and lesbian marriage. Then, the Tribune's obituary editors will be seen less as champions of the Constitution and more as the backward clods they are.

David B. Goroff

Wilmette

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