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Discrimination isn’t always a dirty word

Recently the Rochester Athletic Club denied a same-sex couple a reduced-rate family membership because under Minnesota state law, this couple is not legally married. Several letters to the Post-Bulletin have called this policy "discriminatory." It is discriminatory. That’s the point.

The concept of marriage is discriminatory. By recognizing "marriage," our society is saying that one type of relationship is more important than others. So, yes, married couples get respect and benefits that people in other relationships don’t. Not siblings living together. Not dating couples. Not college fraternity members. That’s discrimination. That’s part of having marriage in society.

And if you look carefully, you see that same-sex couples aren’t arguing that we shouldn’t discriminate. They’re arguing that we shouldn’t discriminate against them. Same-sex couples should be part of the "in" group along with heterosexual couples. All those other relationships — communes, platonic friends, etc. — they should continue to be in the "out" group.

But once you say that one part of marriage is "discriminatory," you have to face the fact that the whole thing is discriminatory. If the part about marriage being between a man and a woman is discriminatory, then isn’t the part about it being between two people equally discriminatory? Or the part about it being a committed relationship? Who are you to say that your committed, sexual relationship is more important than my platonic friendship? Or the strong kinship I feel with my softball team? Who is to judge the relative merits of all these relationships? Society is to judge.

And we have judged. Minnesota law states that marriage is between one man and one woman. And when it came time to make that a constitutional amendment, opponents of the amendment said over and over again that the state law was enough. So now we’ll see.

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We also frequently heard that "what a person does in their own bedroom is their business" or "how does somebody else’s marriage threaten my marriage?" Yet, here we see that the definition of marriage has a direct financial impact on local business. So who gets counted as "married" affects a lot of people. Somebody will pay for all the benefits — first for the same-sex couples. Then for the multiple-partner groupings. Then for all the other people who’ll find ways to formalize relationships with their friends with the best health insurance.Then there are the unknown costs of instability that will occur when all these lifestyle choices get counted as equal in raising children.

But to proponents of same-sex marriage, these risks are outweighed by the importance of getting same-sex relationships in the "in" group. They often argue that the majority (i.e. society) can’t be trusted with the civil rights of the minority. Which, if you follow it to its logical conclusion, means you can use the courts to pass any law you want, so long as you frame it as a civil right.

But even that argument is flawed because careful examination shows that this notion only applies to "good" rights and "good" minorities. Unlike gay marriage, gun ownership is clearly and explicitly defined as a right in the Constitution. Yet the same people who proclaim that any change to the Constitution must expand civil rights often work to curtail gun rights. The same is true for civil rights for the unborn.

So what things really boil down to is that courts should be used to expand the rights of groups favored by the politically correct liberal elite — since they’re the ones who really know what’s best for everyone anyway.

Do same-sex couples deserve to be treated with respect? Of course they do, just as all people do. And it’s important to note that the same-sex couple in this case wasn’t denied membership to the health club, just the special rate given to families built around marriage. That’s pro-marriage discrimination — an accepted part of society.

The bottom line is that nobody should get to bypass the whole legislative process to force their views on society. Nor should they, or anybody else, be able to end important discussions simply by throwing out words like "discrimination," or "bigoted" (or "unpatriotic" for that matter) to try and remove important issues from the realm of debate.

Our society has structure, and marriage is part of that. If it’s important to change that structure, then the burden of proof is on the people doing the changing, especially when it’s to something as fundamental as marriage. In the meantime, local businesses can and should respect the law. We as citizens should support them.

Phil Araoz of Rochester is an anesthesiologist and political activist who writes a regular column for the Post-Bulletin.

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