Excessive optimism

As I mentioned yesterday, my hope is that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule some time this summer that all state laws prohibiting civil marriage between consenting adults of the same sex are unconstitutional because they deprive certain citizens of equal protection under the law (the Fourteenth Amendment).

It seems so obvious and simple to me that this is what needs to be done because California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are so clearly discriminatory against a certain group of people on no legally defensible grounds. But apparently that view is both naïve and excessively optimistic at this time.

A friend of mine who is well-versed on the matter pointed out to me that although the Court may, someday (say, 20 or 30—or more—years from now) find DOMA and Prop 8 and other laws like them to be unconstitutional, they are not going to do so now because the tide of public opinion on same-sex marriage, while it may be running from one pole to the other more swiftly on this issue than any other in recent memory, has not yet reached the tipping point at which the court must affirm the will of the people.

My feeling is, if these laws will be deemed unconstitutional at some point in the future, why wait for public opinion to provide the push? Why not get ahead of it and do the right thing for the right reasons—not just for the sake of the law, but for the sake of all the human beings in this country who are being hurt every single day by the bad laws now in place? Why should same-sex couples in blue states be able to enjoy the benefits of marriage while those in the red states remain second-class citizens? Is this one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, or not?

The answers to these questions are, like everything involving human sexuality, complicated.

Jonathan Rauch gives a good explanation of the legal issues and likely outcomes in an article called Gay Marriage Hits the Supreme Court for the Brookings Institution. As simple as the issue seems to me (i.e., discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is both wrong and unlawful), to the Court, the issue is anything but simple. And the most likely outcome, according to people with far more knowledge of the case and the law than I have, is that nothing much will come of this in terms of sweeping change to federal laws, state laws or society in general.

Some people say the Supreme Court justices are cowards for not tackling this issue head-on once and for all while they have the chance. My well-informed friend calls the Court “a political body of people with lifetime appointments and axes to grind” that has swung so far to the right in recent years that it is unlikely to take any action on this issue before at least a few of the hardest-right members are replaced with people of a slightly more liberal frame of mind. That could be a long, long time from now.

I remain stubbornly optimistic on this one, though. As Winston Churchill once said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing … after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” If not this year, perhaps next year.

the-arc-of-the-moral-universe

 

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Seeing red

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week in a case that challenges California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8. I am not familiar enough with all the legal ins and outs to say what the outcome might be—whether they’ll decide that all 50 states must allow same-sex (or equal) marriage, or that all 50 states can decide for themselves whether to allow it, or what.

My hope is that the court delivers a unanimous ruling similar to the one they made in Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 case in which they struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage. To me, it’s exactly the same issue: Only one definition of marriage should exist in this country that applies equally to all citizens, and individual states should not be allowed to decide which consenting adults can and cannot marry based on nothing more than bigotry and prejudice.

The arguments against what used to be called miscegenation were all the same as those against equal marriage: God never intended it and does not approve, it’s bad for the children, it will lead to the downfall of civilization as we know it. All bullfeathers of the purest ray serene, and everybody knows that … now. I hope that someday soon the vast majority of Americas will regard same-sex marriage with exactly the degree of indifference with which they now regard interracial marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is encouraging people who support equal marriage to change their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures to the symbol for equal marriage, which (naturally) is an “equals” sign:

equal-marriage1        equal-marriage2

The one on the left is the original version; the one on the right is the one the HRC is promoting for use this week. The red symbolizes love, which is what marriage equality is really all about.

I’ve been seeing a lot of red today as my Facebook friends and their friends have changed their profile pictures to the red symbol. I’m pleased and proud to see so many different people willing to publicly support equal rights for all citizens. This is a civil rights issue and a legal matter, not a religious or moral matter. Ensuring equal rights for everyone takes away no rights from anyone. If you’re opposed to same-sex marriage, don’t have one.

The We Do campaign organizes actions across the Southern United States in which same-sex couples are filmed going to their local courthouses and “requesting—and being denied—marriage licenses in order to call for full equality under federal law and to resist unjust state laws. WE DO actions make the impact of discriminatory laws visible to the general public and illustrate what it looks like when LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered] people are treated as second-class citizens under the law.”

There are several videos of these actions available. The one below brought me to tears when an older lady plaintively asks the very young clerk, “Can you tell us what steps we might take to become full and equal citizens under the law before we die? Can you help us with that?”

That’s all that we’re asking for: full and equal citizenship under the law. I am very hopeful that this battle will be won before I die.

Oh, and by the way, I thought the red symbol was nice but not quite fabulous enough for my taste, so I am using this one instead:

marriage


Related: Standing up for family values

 

Standing up for family values

Readers, I want to apologize to you for yesterday’s post. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I completely lost my nerve and caved in to what “people might think” if I wrote about what was really on my mind (“Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day”), so I posted that sweet little music video instead and hoped that by today, my mind would have moved on to other innocuous topics and let me off the hook. But no, this morning my brain is still filled with a buzzing swarm of angry ideas, so I will proceed with the post I should have written yesterday.

I don’t like bloggers who rant and I don’t want to be one, but on this particular topic, I think a rant is the only appropriate response. So here we go.

Chick-fil-A (CFA) is a privately held “quick service” chicken restaurant chain based in Atlanta, Georgia. Its corporate purpose, according to the FAQs on its website, is “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.” Company President Dan Cathy recently took a public stand against same-sex marriage that has sparked a national uproar. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared yesterday “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” and CFA supporters flocked (pun intended) to the restaurants nationwide to show their support of the chain and apparently of Cathy’s position as well, creating blocks-long lines and traffic jams while setting sales records in nearly every outlet (including the one in my town). I am horrified at this outpouring of support not only for cheap fast food but also for ignorance and prejudice.

A friend of a friend on Facebook captured my thoughts exactly when he posted yesterday, “I appreciate my gay friends. I appreciate their right to be happy and share the same rights I do. I appreciate that gay isn’t going away or back in the closet and that’s called progress. And then there are those that appreciate a sh*tty chicken sandwich more than any of this.” (I’ve never eaten at CFA so I can’t speak to the quality of their food, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be very healthy.)

Supposedly these hungry patrons support what Cathy calls “the Biblical definition of marriage,” which, as a Bible reader myself, I know to be a chimera. This helpful graphic that has circulated widely on Facebook breaks it down nicely (click image for a larger version).

What Cathy and millions of his customers support is a marriage that looks like their own (or the one they aspire to): a man and a woman. Good for them that God made them straight. But God also made some of us gay, and we as a nation need to stop ducking away from that fact with the hope that it will somehow just go away.

People object to what they call “gay marriage” (what I prefer to call “equal marriage,” or just “marriage”) for several different reasons. In first place appears to be the procreation argument, that two men or two women “cannot reproduce” and therefore should not be allowed to marry. This is clearly just discrimination because straight people who cannot or choose not to reproduce are still free to marry. Procreation is not and has never been a requirement for matrimony. And this is the 21st century, for heaven’s sake; of course there are many other ways to procreate than by heterosexual marriage.

Following closely on the heels of this is the “what’s best for the children” gambit. Two points: 1) Most gay people have straight parents, so clearly the parents’ example does not determine the child’s sexuality at least 90% of the time. 2) Children who are raised by two same-sex parents are likely to be accepting of others’ non-traditional family structures, and how is that a bad thing for them or for society?

Next is the “it’s not what God intended” argument, which is pure nonsense. Read the Bible. Look at the graphic above. The “traditional” definition of marriage is always changing. Just 50 years ago, God didn’t “intend” for the races to mix in marriage, but that’s considered nothing more than ancient, misguided bigotry now.

And finally is the proposition that “the term ‘marriage’ should be reserved for straights only” from people who consider themselves to be tolerant but who just can’t overcome their own antipathy toward the idea of men having husbands and women having wives. These people support “civil partnerships” or other forms of legal unions that would give gay couples certain rights such as hospital visitation and survivor’s benefits but would not have the full protection of the law nor the full societal and governmental sanction of that special, sacred institution called marriage. Because, you know, straight people’s unions really are special and they deserve to have a unique name for their relationship that cannot be shared by anyone else because that would “cheapen the institution.” Or even destroy the foundations of civilization, to hear some people tell it.

It is this last argument that riles me the most. Consider this anecdote from Dan Savage:

ANY heterosexual couple can get this license, assuming they are not already legally wed to someone else or too closely related and are of age to consent (or have their parent[s] consent). And once they wed, that union is instantly and automatically recognized in every municipality in every state and every nation of the entire world–except in certain specific legal situations, perhaps, they never need to show a marriage certificate or any proof of any kind of this civil contract between them. The don’t even need to wear rings. They simply have to say “we’re married” and they are accorded all kinds of rights and privileges as spouses that they never would have enjoyed as singles no matter how deep their commitment to each other or how longstanding their relationship. Just a few dollars and a few signatures on a piece of paper and they’re wed before the world.

Gay couples can approximate some of the legal protections granted by the civil marriage ceremony, in some states, if they have a good lawyer and a lot of time and money to devote to sorting out matters of inheritance, child custody and so forth. But even with pages and pages of legal contracts, there is no guarantee, for example, that when one is hospitalized, the other won’t be prevented by the patient’s biological family from visiting. Waving a left hand with a ring on it isn’t always enough, let alone saying “but I’m his/her husband/wife” anywhere that equal marriage is not recognized. Without marriage, the best a same-sex couple can hope to achieve is long-term cohabitation and perhaps joint ownership of property while remaining complete strangers to each other in the eyes of the law. Marriage makes two people a family. Anything that strengthens the family is good for society, so anyone who claims to support “family values” should also support equal marriage on principle alone.

Civil unions impose not only a denial of equal rights but also an economic penalty on one class of citizens for reasons having more to do with fundamental prejudice than anything that can be legally justified. Simply because people don’t like the idea of two men or two women loving each other and having sex and living together does not give them the right to deny those men and women equal protection under the law. If you don’t believe in same-sex marriage, don’t have one. It really is that simple.

A short film called “It Could Happen to You” tells the story of a young man named Shane who lost his lover of six years, Tom, to a tragic accident, and was prevented by threat of death from Tom’s family from attending his funeral in 2011. This heartbreaking video illustrates all the prejudice and challenges gay people face every day, even from those who claim to love them most, their own biological families.

Would legalizing equal marriage erase these prejudices and challenges? Of course not, at least not immediately. But it would be a huge step toward full equality for gay Americans. We deserve nothing less.

To wed or to marry?

We’re midway through June, the prime wedding season. Ah, the Big Church Wedding, that singular rite of passage that every little girl dreams of as the starting point of her “real” life. The dress, the rings, the flowers, the invitations, the venue, the guest list, the symbolism, the pageantry, the traditions, the planning, the expense! Oh yes, and the groom, of course.  Who wouldn’t want all that, all her life?

Most girls who dream of a wedding probably imagine something like this…

Bridesmaids and groomsmen in their matching outfits, friends and family packed into the pews, the organ playing that venerable song. Candle lighting, vows, prayers, tears. It’s all so … so.

I never dreamed that dream.

I have always wanted to be married, but I’ve never wanted a wedding. My vision was closer to this:

No fancy outfits, no attendants, no guests, no prayers, no candles, no crushing debt in the aftermath. Just some paperwork and a short ceremony in front of a judge at the courthouse to make it all legal. Maybe dinner with our immediate families afterwards and a short honeymoon somewhere warm. Then back to normal life, married. Because the only part of that elaborate, expensive, exhausting Big Church Wedding ceremony that really matters is the piece of paper that says the state recognizes two people as lawfully wedded spouses. No ceremony in any church or anywhere else can replace that. All I want is the marriage, not the wedding.

Civil marriage is a civil right. =