I woke up this weekend to the extremely welcome news that the State of Connecticut has legalized gay marriage, joining Massachusetts and California as the only three U.S. states with full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Although seven other states have civil unions or domestic partnership laws, as did Connecticut before this ruling, the state supreme court held that this was not enough.
I used to believe that civil unions were an acceptable compromise, but I don’t believe that anymore. The Connecticut ruling cited the same argument that persuaded me: drawing a legal distinction between civil unions and marriage is the same reasoning as the “separate but equal” argument that was once used to justify racial segregation. The concept of marriage has existed for millennia, but the concept of civil unions has not. By barring gay couples from the former, the state is advancing an unsubtle claim that they are somehow different, not worthy of the same recognition as straight couples. This is the same attitude and reasoning that perpetuates discrimination in the first place. With its enlightened ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court has recognized the obvious truth that the partnerships of gay couples are no different from the partnerships of straight couples, and deserve nothing less when it comes to legal rights. Way to go, Connecticut!
The religious right must be aware that the tide is turning against them on this issue. Polls have found increasing tolerance and support for gay marriage, which ensures that rulings like these are just the leading edge of many more to come. It’s very plausible that America will have full marriage equality, at least in law, within a generation. Anti-gay bigots may be able to slow the tide of change, but they cannot stop it.
That said, one such effort is underway in California. Bigots of the religious right have successfully placed a measure, Proposition 8, on the ballot this fall. If it passes, this measure would overturn that state’s supreme court decision and make gay marriage illegal – an astonishing blast of raw hatred that would tear apart the thousands of marriages already obtained by gay couples in the state. For the sake of marriage equality, and for the rights of all Americans, not just gay Americans, to direct their lives free from religious tyranny, this measure must be defeated.
Although most polls have found that Californians are opposed to Prop 8 by a slim majority, recent polling has detected a worrying uptick in support. Much of this can be blamed on the Mormon church, whose members are pouring millions of dollars into the state to outlaw gay marriage. If their efforts help pass Prop 8, it wouldn’t be the first time the Mormons have successfully impeded moral progress. From Under the Banner of Heaven:
Over the years, the Mormon leadership has made numerous pronouncements about the “dangers” of the feminist movement and has excommunicated several outspoken feminists. But perhaps the greatest rift between Mormon general authorities and advocates for women’s rights occurred when the LDS Church actively and very effectively mobilized Mormons to vote as a bloc against ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment… Most political analysts believe that had the LDS Church not taken such an aggressive position against the ERA, it would have been easily ratified by the required thirty-eight states, and would now be part of the U.S. Constitution. (p.25)
Of course, more traditional Christians have joined the Mormons in their campaign of hate. A suitable example can be found at the Evangelical Outpost, which cites a video by the right-wing Family Research Council encouraging its members to vote for Proposition 8. The video purports to be documentation of the grave harm done in Massachusetts by the legalization of gay marriage. I was curious, since I’ve heard many religious right polemics against gay marriage, but never an explanation of what bad effects they fear would result if it were to be legalized.
The video features a Christian couple in Massachusetts who were upset that their elementary-school-age son was taught about gays and gay marriage. I watched the whole thing, waiting for them to explain how this would lead to greater harm, but there was no follow-up. In their eyes, that was the harm: that their son was merely made aware of the existence of gay couples. Evidently, they want to preserve their right to keep their children ignorant of ways of life other than their own. How dare the public schools teach our kids tolerance, was their message, when we want to teach them to fear and hate! Were there people who raised the same complaint after interracial marriage was legalized, that teaching about the existence of such a thing interferes with their parental right to teach their children racism?
Bigots like the Mormon leadership and the Family Research Council hide their hatred behind a smiling mask or dress it up with hollow slogans about “family values”. But disguise it however they will, they cannot conceal its fundamental ugliness. What they want is not the freedom to lead their own lives as they see fit, but the power to reach into the lives of others to oppress, tyrannize, and enforce their own narrow and archaic views.
Gay and lesbian couples are human beings and deserve the same rights as anyone else: the right to live in peace, to raise families, to pledge their devotion and spend their lives with the people they love. They deserve those rights, and it is up to us to protect them. If we win the vote in California – if marriage equality is affirmed not just by the courts, but by popular acclaim – this will be a crushing blow to the anti-gay bigots and will delegitimize their cause as no other development could. This November, much is at stake. Will you join in the fight to liberate human freedom from the prejudices of the past?