Re "Court looks split on gay marriage," March 27
The issue isn't the "tradition" of marriage but rather the role of government in regulating marriage. This discussion is being confused by an inaccurate depiction of marriage as an unchanging institution.
For centuries, only members of the upper classes were married in any kind of ceremonial sense. Biblical references to marriage always mean among the upper classes, while common men and women simply "lie together." In Western society, the state's role in marriage dates only to the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther suggested that marriage was a matter for government because of property rights, inheritance and to make men responsible for their children.
Placing "traditional" marriage in a context dating back thousands of years is not only misleading as a matter of historical record but confuses the debate over what should be the government's role in regulating marriage.
To answer Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a good date for the inception of today's question of same-sex marriage could be set with the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, at least for its trajectory in Western civilization.
Shakespeare's play presents the concept of love tragically forbidden by socioeconomic and cultural boundaries. For centuries, marriage was a contract between family elders, an economic or social choice that denied marriage for love across class, race, religion and, yes, gender.
In the 20th century, marriage for love was clearly defined as a constitutionally protected individual right in the United States, class structure and familial constraints notwithstanding.
It's time to extend that right to Romeo and Romeo and to Juliet and Juliet. Let's put an end to the denial of requited, recognized and celebrated love.
Timothy J. Pershing
Re "For gay rights, a historic opportunity," Editorial, March 26
The Times says California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is "shameful" and "a backlash against the defining civil rights struggle of this era." The Times concedes, however, that all couples in California have "identical … rights and obligations under state law."
So what's all the fuss? Is this really a defining civil rights struggle?
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, "Same-sex couples have every other right; it's just about the label." These couples want the marriage label used for thousands of years to define a union between heterosexuals.
This is not a controversy over marriage rights. This is a controversy over terminology, and specifically over perceived "dignity, respect and stature," as stated by the Obama administration, that may attach to the unions of same-sex couples in California.
Needless to say, "dignity, respect and stature" is not an entitlement, no matter the applicants' sex.
Re "Gay in America," Letter, March 27
I've lived at least 65 of my 75 years knowing that I am gay. With hurtful self-judgment, compromised decisions and strategically necessary fibbing, I've been able to achieve a life of grace and dignity. I am a native Californian, and am now extremely hopeful of marrying my partner of 22 years.
Rather than wanting an apology, as the letter writer does, from those who once opposed same-sex marriage, I applaud all of those men and women — elected officials, officers of the military, members of the clergy and others — who have the courage to say, "I was wrong; I have changed my mind." And I thank them for it.