Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gay Marriage - Let's Skip To The End, Shall We?

So Iowa legalized gay marriage, and the California Supreme Court upheld California's right to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

Cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

It seems, at best, ironic that supposedly forward-thinking California, Land of Fruits and Nuts, would take this colossal step backwards in the pursuits of equality while Iowa, the very embodiment of all things Midwestern, would take such an unexpected step forward. The other way around would have been business as usual in the Old Reality. Now the New Reality is letting us know not to take anything for granted.

But with New York on the verge of voting to legalize same-sex marriage, we now find the ball officially in motion, as state after state emerges from its puritanical trance and awakens to this New Day of Equality. All that's left now is to sit back and watch the dominoes fall one by one.

I don't think we can expect to see all fifty states ratify same-sex marriage anytime soon. As evidenced in California, the wheels of progress can grind very slowly indeed. But just to recap, let's spell out the facts:

  • The argument over gay marriage is not a religious one. This is because marriage licenses are issued by state governments. No religion, no religious facility, and no clergy are needed to legitimize a marriage in the eyes of the law. Every single religion could take a hard line stand against gay marriage, and gay people could still go to their local courthouses and be married by a judge. Therefore, religion is a moot point.
  • Just because one state issues you a marriage license does not guarantee the state you live in will recognize it. If a gay couple, denied their opportunity to wed in California thanks to Prop 8 passing decides to jet off to Des Moines and tie the knot, they may not necessarily have their marriage recognized back home. This is going to be a fun one to watch when it hits the United States Supreme Court (and it will).
  • There will still be (and ought to be) restrictions on who can marry. I'm a big believer in True Love, and I tend to believe that true love conquers all. But let's be reasonable. At the risk of sounding conservative (shudder!) I must stipulate that I don't believe that just anyone should be allowed to marry. Opponents of gay marriage like to paint a picture of an "anything goes" society, where brothers and sisters get hitched, pet owners marry their dogs, and group marriages abound. So for the purposes of these debates, let's be clear: marriage ought to be defined as a union of two consenting adult human beings, unrelated. (Sorry, England.)

In all of the hoopla surrounding this very divisive subject, I have yet to hear one lucid argument as to why two men or two women ought not to get married. I have still not heard how, precisely, society at large would suffer as a result. There are currently 18,000 gay and lesbian married couples in California. With the court’s decision to allow Prop 8 into law, it begs the obvious question: why should couple #18,000 have a right that couple #18,001 should not? It’s one thing to talk about unfair when discerning between the gay couples vs. the straight ones. But with the Court’s decision, we now have some gay couples enjoying a legal and legitimate marriage in the state of California, while another gay couple is summarily denied the same right. This, Gentle Reader, is the textbook definition of unfair. This leaves us to decide whether to annul the 18,000 existing gay marriages, or allow the right to marry to couple #18,001. Given that Prop 8 passed and was upheld in court, I don’t want to assume that this time fair play will win the day.

I must reiterate that the topic has very little to do with me personally. My marriage is lucky enough to be recognized in all fifty states. No decision on the issue of gay marriage will undo that. So why do I care? I care because I don’t want to live in a country that practices what amounts to apartheid against a minority group. I care because even though I’m in the majority today, tomorrow they may decide that people with blue eyes aren’t as good as people with brown eyes. They may decide that left-handed people shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or drive, or have children. They may decide here in California that people from other states have to pay a higher income tax than natives. Sound bizarre? I agree. But it only sounds bizarre because we’ve been conditioned to believe that in this country, all men are created equal. We’ve been told from our earliest schoolings that all people in this country are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But in light of the Court’s decision to uphold Prop 8, I am forced to ask: what happened to America? What happened to the land of liberty? When did we decide that certain people aren’t as equal as others? Throughout our history, we as a nation have grown to understand more deeply and thoroughly what it means to live in a free country. When we became a nation, only white male land owners were allowed to vote. In the beginning, we practiced slavery. We ended slavery, gave women the right to vote, created laws to protect workers’ rights, gave the right to vote to anyone over 18. We bled on foreign shores for the freedoms of people we don’t even know. We’ve waged war on behalf of the oppressed in countries most of us couldn’t find on a map. And with the passing of Prop 8, we shame our forefathers. The decision to deny rights to a minority group for no good reason is a slap in the face to all the brave men and women who served this country and bled and died for the cause of freedom. We have betrayed our very foundations. America is supposed to be the Land of Opportunity. It still can be, if we are willing to face this issue bravely, overcome our own personal phobias and recognize, once and for all, that we cannot claim the mantle of liberty while denying it to some.

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