I’ve been struggling for years to understand fully why the opposition to gay marriage makes me so angry. I certainly have friends and family who are gay and I support and empathize with the daily challenges they face to just be who they are. And this attack on their freedom to create family and home as they choose is unnerving.
This is one reason that opposition to gay marriage makes me angry.
I’m also clear about the parallels between the opposition to gay marriage and the opposition to interracial marriage between whites and people who were not white in the U.S. (being a member of the latter category). U.S. Representative Seaborn Anderson Roddenbery, D-Georgia, was a celebrated opponent of marriage between “Negroes” and whites. In January 1913 he introduced H.J. Res 368, a bill proposing a Constitutional amendment to outlaw interracial marriages in the states where it was legal and ban it nationwide. The rationale for this proposed legislation was that it was immoral for people of different races to marry. Many interpreted a variety of Biblical passages to support this view and though Roddenbery’s bill never passed, a great deal of legislation has existed throughout U.S. history to criminalize interracial marriage. Both the law and cultural mores in this country have evolved and such legislation has been unequivocally deemed unconstitutional (thank you, Loving v. Virginia). And though many people still oppose interracial relationships and marriage to varying degrees, a large majority of people seem to be comfortable in the position that those views should not be legislated (at least I haven’t read of any significant movements to outlaw interracial marriage recently) But today, we are Roddenbery and his contemporaries when it comes to gay marriage. To many who oppose it, gay marriage is a moral affront and gay people are demonized for who they are.
This is also why opposition to gay marriage makes me angry.
But I realized that these reasons for being angry were secondary to the ones articulated by conservative lawyer Ted Olson in a Newsweek article last week. I should note that I am not a conservative by political definition; I’m probably much more of a moderate. I am certainly compelled by extreme views of any issue and am fascinated by “crossings”— moments when someone from one extreme takes on an opposing view. In The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage: Why same-sex marriage is an American value, Olson does just that. Now this guy has been at the center of a number of important conservative legal victories including the ruling that gave George W. Bush the presidency in the 2000 election race against Al Gore. But now, he is attempting to persuade a federal court to invalidate California’s Proposition 8—the voter-approved measure that overturned California’s constitutional right to marry a person of the same sex. He is behaving like a turncoat conservative on this one and in the article he writes about why. He argues that same-sex marriage represents the very values that conservatives cherish—the creation of “a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership.” He argues that it is about civil rights and the promise of the Constitution and of our Declaration of Independence that states that all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He further refutes arguments that gay marriage would somehow dilute procreation or that it would discourage heterosexuals from marrying (both of which are profoundly flawed arguments as I see it). Overall it is a powerful and thoughtful piece.
Upon reflection, I realized that my anger flowed from the pain this debate creates, not only on gay people everywhere, but on straight people as well. The stance to discriminate always harms both those who are discriminated against we well as those who discriminate. Ghandi and King, among others, are particularly eloquent on this point. And because I am a heterosexual person in a predominantly heterosexual society, I get angry because I know I can easily be seduced to be biased and prejudiced against gay people, even if it’s unintentional. It’s not that I’m a bad person; at least I like to think I’m not. It’s just that as a straight person, it is so easy to become accustomed to making gay people less human than I am. I’ve grown up with demeaning stereotypes of gays and lesbians, profound silences about how their lives and struggles are different from mine, and a public debate stoked by straight peoples’ privilege to call a vote to decide if gay people should be allowed to enjoy the right to family, community, and happiness. How many straight people do you know who’ve ever worried that they would be legally deprived of their privilege to marry? (Caveat—a discussion of the experiences of disabled people is forthcoming…)
When it comes to sexual orientation there are many choices we make, whether gay or straight: What kinds of neighborhoods and communities will we live in? Who will we associate with? Who will we work with? How much of ourselves will we choose to share?
“Who will we marry?” should be one of those kinds of questions about which we all have the freedom to choose.