Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thoughts on Marriage Equality

June is an important month in the history of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights movement.  1969’s Stonewall Riots took place over two nights in late June; on June 26, 2003 the United States Supreme Court ruled that gender based sodomy laws were unconstitutional; exactly ten years later, the court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which outlawed Federal spousal benefits to same-sex couples; finally, on June 26 of this year, the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act entirely, along with all State measures prohibiting the same- thus legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.  It is all the more fitting, therefore, that LGBT Pride month falls in June.    

There was a flurry of internet comments that greeted the Court’s ruling.  One that stood out to me was in response to a gay man who stated he had no plan on marrying his long-term partner: “I don’t see why you should,” a respondent said. “It’s just a piece of paper.”

But marriage is so much more than a piece of paper. So much more.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.  As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.  It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.”

Well said, Justice Kennedy.  I only wish your views on corporate personhood were as enlightened.

It’s well worth pointing out that four of the five Justices who voted for marriage equality were appointed by Democratic Presidents: Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by Clinton; Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, appointed by Obama.  The fifth Justice, Anthony Kennedy, was appointed by Reagan when his first two nominees, Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg, failed to gain Senate approval.  Whenever someone complains that there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats, I always point out the importance of the Supreme Court.  It’s appropriate to pay homage to another, unrelated Kennedy: Edward – without whose withering criticism theodious Bork would have likely won Senate confirmation.

Back in 2010, when Daniel and I had to go to Vermont to get married, I was impatient with the lack of progress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Hate Crimes Legislation, and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  I noisily announced my intention to leave theDemocratic Party in favor of the Greens.  Two things happened which changed my mind: The Hate Crimes Act and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were passed and signed into law; and I witnessed the ridiculous behavior on the part of several Green Party members revolving around a local zoning ordinance – which led me to an epiphany: America’s Green Party and their members have accomplished nothing for the environment, and certainly nothing for human rights.  That’s when I recalled an old truism, which has applied in my own life as well as in most politics: Slow and steady wins the day.

Following the ruling, I was amused that thrice-married, twice-divorced Donald Trump promptly assailed the Court’s action and spoke out for the “sanctity” of marriage.  Trump sets a poor example for the country both on issues of marital fidelity and pronouncements on public policy.  There is an old adage which cautions to “Never speak of rope in the house of a man who’s been hanged” and that certainly applies to Trump vis-à-vis marriage.  I simply cannot take him or any of his followers seriously. I find it interesting that while numerous Republican or religious acquaintances have quietly told me that they don’t agree with their Party’s or Church’s stance on LGBT people, not one of them has stood up and proclaimed that view publicly.  Not one of them has joined the many groups, like Republicans for Marriage Equality, or an LGBT-friendly religious group, to express their belief.  This has led me to the conclusion that either these people were lying to me, or they simply lacked the guts to stand up for their beliefs.  As Toscanini said, “The spine curves when the soul is curved.”    

Their behavior was particularly galling in light of comments by all too many on the religious right, which affirmed my belief that many religions are little more than an excuse to hate.  While their leaders, and followers, endlessly repeat “Hate the sin, love the sinner”, it’s patently obvious that many of them hate the sinners as well.  It’s not enough of them to froth at the mouth, they lie while they do so when they claim that religious liberties are under attack – for the Court’s ruling affects Civil marriage only.  No priest, minister, rabbi, imam, or other religious figure will be required to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.  Frankly, considering how most religious institutions – with the exception of a few “open & affirming” congregations like the United Church of Christ, and the Unitarians – have made it part of their mission to slander and suppress the LGBT community, I can’t understand how any LGBT person of conscience can associate with them. 

The Court’s affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry is a huge threshold in the continued mainstreaming of the LGBT community – a phenomenon which has gained momentum since the 1990s.  About the most courageous thing an LGBT person could do back then was live openly in the suburbs – especially if coupled.  At the same time, there are members of the community who don’t want to be mainstreamed.  For every gay couple out there wanting to marry, there’s a self-styled “queer” who rejects marriage as “heterosexist” and “patriarchal” (even if the couple involved is Lesbian).  It’s no surprise that many of these people live in gay ghettos, surrounded by gay friends, shopping in gay shops, drinking and dining in gay bars and restaurants.  That’s OK, but it’s limiting – as recounted in Edmund White’s States of Desire, Travels in Gay America, it amounts to a “shtetl” mentality of separateness - where immersion in one's own Tribe comes at the expense of knowledge of the wider world.  Everyone should be free to pursue their own path in life – to pursue “happiness”, as stated in the Declaration of Independence.  No one should feel “pushed” into marriage any more than someone should be forced into heterosexuality.  For what the Court’s ruling acknowledges is that LGBT people have a legal “choice” – in other words, Freedom – to marry as they see fit.  I don’t see how any right-thinking person can besmirch that right – particularly as so many states still allow marriage between first cousins, which is virtually incestuous.

With rights come responsibilities.  Doubtless there will be some lesbians and gay men who frivolously marry, and those who marry to receive attention and gifts, as have many heterosexuals.  It will be up to individual members of the LGBT community to exercise their newly acknowledged rights in a responsible manner.

The work goes on.  In too many states, it’s still legal to fire an LGBT person without cause.  This needs to be changed.  There must be an end to job, housing, and other discrimination against LGBT people.

So, to quote fictional President Jed Bartlet: “OK, what’s next?”

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