Discrimination is the Voice of Ignorance
Marriage is one of the fundamental establishments of the United States. As a young person, one looks forward to many goals in their lifetime: career success, a good life, and very often marriage to the person they love and a family together. This is one of the biggest parts of our American life and culture. Very few heterosexuals would be willing to put their right to marry on a ballot for voter approval, or even in their wildest dreams have to consider doing that. However, in the past ten years that is a prospect gay men and women are facing all over our United States. Why is American culture so unaccepting of homosexual marriages and what are the reprocutions of this for homosexual couples and for all of our citizens?
Homosexuality, as a lifestyle has always been under great fire in our culture.
Homosexuality has been defined and termed in many contexts. The West Chester
University Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Services states that,
Given the variable aspects of sexual orientation and given evidence that an individual’s sexual orientation may change over time, it is difficult to provide a precise and universally accepted definition of homosexuality. In general terms, homosexuality may be described as the capacity to find affection and or sexual satisfaction with someone of the same gender.
Focus founder and fundamental Christian leader, James Dobson, however, simply defines homosexuality as a sin and says homosexuals can be cured in God’s name (Egelko, 3/2000 p2). As one can see from these two examples alone, the definition of this lifestyle isn’t focused solely on what a homosexual is, but rather how individuals feel about the way of life.
In day to day living, the homosexual lifestyle is most likely not much different from the heterosexual or straight lifestyle. A homosexual still gets up in the morning and goes to work or to school. They still have dinner with family or friends, participate in sports and community organizations and events. And yes, they still hold stable relationships, just like a man and women would, they still go through the ups and downs of a relationship, facing the same joyous moments, and same hard times with an individual they love. The homophobia that has spread through our country like wildfire since the outing of homosexuals became more common and acceptable undermines these common variables between homosexual and heterosexual couples.
One of the largest differences for a homosexual is living a life of fear. Along with all of their day to day activities that mirror any heterosexual, they must also deal with the stress of being different and being unacceptable to the society which they are a part of. They must know the places they are welcomed as an outted gay person, and the ones where they must hide their true identities. As well, they are not granted many of the rights a heterosexual takes for granted. They cannot file for taxes along with their partner, cannot receive medical benefits or health insurance under their partners coverage, as most husband and wives do, and most essentially, they cannot create a bond of unity to express their love through a legal marriage (France, 2/2000 p2).
Marriage has been a unique part of our culture since its beginning. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines marriage as to join or unite a husband and wife. As well, many churches quote like definitions. The Catholic Church, for example, relies on Jesus’ statement about a man and his wife becoming one flesh, never to be separated ( Egelko, 3/2000 p1). And West Virginia Governor, Cecil Underwood, just asked the legislature to put on all marriage licenses and applications: Marriage is designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man (Bundy, 1/2000 p1). The debate comes over whether or not these definitions are simply traditional in their wording of man and wife or if that is truly the way it is meant to be. This brings up the issue of whether religious or secular definitions should prevail and how to go about changing or amending these definitions. If a marriage is truly a unity of two individuals in love, however, who is the final decision-maker in how far those lines can be drawn? Is it really the place of our government, or even ourselves to tell a couple, regardless of their gender or sexuality that they may not be united legally in their love?
This question, one of morality and of legality, has become a pressing issue in many states in the recent years. At the present day, no state in America has legalized the marriage of a same-sex couple (Swanson, 3/2000 p2). However, the latest trend in legislation is towards a ban on validating a marriage of a same-sex couple that has been legalized in another state or country.
The first step which initiated this proposition came in Hawaii and began in 1994. Hawaii’s courts have held that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a violation of the state’s constitution (Gallagher, 6/98 p2). In 1997, gay couples in Hawaii petitioned for legal recognition and won a groundbreaking compromise: domestic partnership (Wolf, 2/98 p1). Although this is not a marriage license, it does promise a more valid partnership in the eyes of the courts and of the society for the future. At the same time, however, thirty states have now passed bans on same-sex marriages outright, and in 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of gay marriages (Wolf, 2/98 p3).
The state of Vermont is also on the front page when it comes to the gay marriage movement. In a Vermont Supreme Court decision in December of 1999, Chief Justice Jeffrey L. Amestoy told the state legislature either to provide licenses or set up a domestic partner system extending all or most of the same rights and obligations provided by law to married partners (France, 2/2000 p1). The court’s decision was a huge win for proponents of gay marriage, however, it has not granted an actual marriage license yet, which is what a couple will really need in the eyes of federal and other state laws.
The latest and probably hottest debate over this issue has been in California. In the beginning of March 2000, California voters approved a ballot measure recognizing only those marriages between men and women (Tharp, 3/2000 p1). Entitled Proposition 22, this ballot won by a 61-39 percent margin. Until this point, state law had required California to validate unions legally performed in other states. This ban, however, will make any same-sex union invalid in California.
Ironically, same-sex marriages are not currently legal anywhere in the United States. Therefore, Proposition 22 is quite possibly jumping the gun. Opponents of P-22 state that gays’ right to marry, though rejected by most churches, should be preserved in secular society—and an individualistic tradition that impedes political organizations (Egelko, 3/3000 p3). It has also been called barbaric and mean-spirited. The individuals who have been backing this type of legislation include conservatives and religious leaders who have historically been undermining the basic individual rights of gays and lesbians for years; a fact that makes it very hard to believe this is not an attempt to hurt or discriminate against gay and lesbian people.
Whether the recent legislation is anti-gay or pro-straight is still to be decided. One thing is evident, though, it highlights an anxiety that may very well be produced by the marital state of our current society. As Naomi Wolf states in her article Scenes from a Gay Marriage:
With fifty percent of first marriages ending in divorce, the institution of straight marriage has broken down. Intensifying the heterosexual anxiety is the realization that just as straight people want out of marriage, gay people want in. And this is producing in heterosexual America a very real inferiority complex.
This may be a very true statement. Is it possible that heterosexual America fears that gay
marriages will be a new and better union than those of the past?
Through the recent actions of many United States legislatures and from the adamant anti-gay comments so many Americans hear and say every day, it seems as though there isn’t much hope left for equal rights and equal treatment of homosexuals, let alone gay and lesbian couples who hope to be joined in marriage. The issue will very likely go on, much fueled by a debate of right and wrong and morality versus science.
However, a few facts still remain. Homosexuality will continue to be a way of life in out American culture. Unfortunately, it will continue to be degraded, until we as a society take cold hard steps against that discrimination. Fear and ignorance will always be abundant in America to fuel debates over other people’s choices, much like this debate over gay marriage. Something to really think about though is the idea that marriage is intended as a unity and a lifelong commitment of love. Ironically, a ban on just that is somewhat of an oxymoron. As a society, we need to change the negative traditions of our culture from discriminatory to accepting. Douglas F. Nissing, an Episcopal priest officiates at gay commitment ceremonies. After describing one of his recent ceremonies, he states the following:
God was truly present. How could God be absent when there is such love? Every loving couple deserves the opportunity to have such a celebration. Yet the church, and many others continue to say that gay people don’t deserve this opportunity. This attitude is directly responsible for creating and supporting an environment in which hatred and prejudice can take root and grow. It is time that we let the world know that love transcends the narrow vision that our brothers and sisters often preach.
Pastor Nissing is correct. It is time for our culture, no matter how traditional, to stop fostering lines of hatred and fear and instead change focus to understanding and love, no matter what kind of love it may be.