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COL Outlook is changed for Canadian gays, lesbians

Government likely to pass same-sex marriage law

The slow process of recognizing gays and lesbians as members of the human family is proceeding around the world.

In the most recent step, the Canadian cabinet has approved giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages. The action followed rulings by three senior appeals courts that the country's previous marriage laws were discriminatory and unconstitutional. In the words of an Ontario court, "Same-sex couples are capable of forming long, lasting, loving and intimate relationships."

The new policy still must be approved by the national Parliament, but little organized opposition has developed.

; Only two other countries -- the Netherlands and Belgium -- recognize same-sex marriages. The Netherlands has a long residency requirement for couples planning to marry, and Belgium's same-sex marriage law applies only to residents of countries where such marriages are permitted.

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In the United States, there is little public support for same-sex marriages, but there has been a slow but continuing improvement in the treatment of gays and lesbians. Many major companies grant health insurance and other benefits to the partners of gay or lesbian employees. Some do so out of fairness and others frankly state that they recognize that it is wrong to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. Still others say that they want their work force to be reflective of their customers, who include gays, lesbians and members of other minority groups.

Gays in this country still are subjected to harassment and sometimes to violence, and those in high schools often are treated cruelly by their peers. Most gays and lesbians -- who might constitute 5 percent or more of the population -- work for a living and are good citizens.

Though it is not realistic in 2003 to expect that full-fledged same-sex marriages would be legalized in this country today, at least one state -- Vermont -- has legalized civil unions. A civil union does not provide full marriage rights, but it is a practical step guaranteeing insurance benefits, inheritance rights, rights of hospital visitations and other privileges regarded as essential to such a long-term relationship.

A civil union also makes it easier for a gay or lesbian couple to adopt and raise children, which many wish to do. Society has an interest in fostering stable families and encouraging committed relationships, which are difficult to maintain without such assistance.

David Weiss, an ordained minister in Minneapolis and a former Luther College teacher of religion, wrote on this subject in Tuesday's Post-Bulletin. He said that people often say they don't object to people's sexual orientation -- as long as they don't act on that orientation. He wrote that this is like saying, "There's nothing wrong with being heterosexual …; as long as you never act on it." He added that this would be an impossible proposition for most of those who are straight.

Weiss, incidentally, is straight, is married and has a blended family of five children. He has a deep sympathy for gay and lesbian people who have strong religious faith but are shunned by many for being who they are.

The world will be better off when more people have Weiss' understanding of this difficult issue and are sensitive enough to treat others as human beings, whether gay or straight.

Approving same-sex marriages is unlikely today in the United States. The more realistic step would be to follow the example of Vermont and approve civil unions for gays and lesbians on a state-by-state basis.

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