Several other states have separate-but-equal style civil union statutes, allowing gay couples rights and benefits comparable to straight couples, but stopping short of recognizing these same-sex relationships as “marriages.”
Forty-one states have statutes defining marriage as a strictly heterosexual institution; twenty-seven of those are in the form of amendments to their state constitutions. The statute in my own state of Maryland was struck down two and a half years ago by a judge, but remains in effect pending appeal.
Opponents of gay marriage paint a chilling picture of an America where homosexuals are allowed to marry each other. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman, they say. State-sanctioned gay marriage opens the door for state-sanctioned polygamy, pedophilia, bestiality, who-knows-what-all. Here’s what those who would enshrine bigotry intractably in our state constitutions fail to mention, or simply don’t realize: there are justifiable moral and economic reasons for prohibiting polygamy, pedophilia, bestiality. Sanctioning gay marriage does nothing to legitimize these practices, which are undesirable for practical, defensible reasons.
There is no reason to deny gay men and women — who are citizens of this country, who pay taxes, who vote, who work and attend school, who serve in the armed forces — the opportunity to join the person they love in a legal, state-sanctioned marriage. The denial of the right to marry to homosexuals is morally indefensible.
When the California State Supreme Court overturned that state’s ban on gay marriage on May 15, the opinion cited a 1948 decision that struck down a law banning interracial marriage. There were no African Americans on that 1948 court which overturned the anti-miscegenation statute. Those justices were not acting out of self-interest. Similarly, the current roster of the California Supreme Court (an “activist” court if ever there was one, with six of the seven justices identifying themselves as Republicans) is 100% heterosexual. They acted in the interest of justice.
Many of the loudest, and most eloquent voices to speak out against anti-gay bigotry have been those of gay men and women who have experienced it first-hand. It’s only right that men like Larry Kramer should be at the forefront, calling for “a gay army with gay leaders fighting for gay people,” but gay people cannot do this all by themselves. It should not be their struggle alone. It can’t be. Heterosexual men and women of conscience, straight people tired of living in a country that has taken great pains these last forty years to purge from its laws every form of bigotry except this one, must march alongside the army.
We have all seen the photographs of the great civil rights marches of the 1960s. Perhaps a few of you reading this are old enough to have been there. There were seas of black faces, but there were white faces, too. There was Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, but there was also Charlton Heston at the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., wearing a sandwich board that read “All Men Are Created Equal,” and Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who made civil rights advocacy for black Americans central to their administrations.
Where are the straight men and women standing alongside the homosexuals fighting for their rights? I don’t mean presidents like Bill Clinton, who instituted the cowardly “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military, and I don’t mean presidential candidates who support civil unions but stop short of advocating same-sex marriage for fear of alienating potential voters. I mean men like Wyoming state representative Dan Zwonitzer, a heterosexual who spoke out in committee against a bill that would have prohibited his state (which already has anti-gay marriage statutes on its books) from recognizing same-sex marriages performed out-of-state. Zwonitzer prevailed, the bill died in committee, and afterwards he said, “I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.”
That’s what this is about. Not special rights for some people, not singling out one particular out-group and elevating them above the rest of us — basic rights for all people.
Straight people offended by homophobia are sometimes slow to speak out for fear of being presumed gay themselves. Bigots often find it hard to believe that a person would speak out for the rights of a group of which they are not a member. Whites who spoke out for black rights were labeled “race traitors,” “nigger lovers.” When Charlie Chaplin made his anti-Hitler satire The Great Dictator in 1940, many who knew no better assumed Chaplin must have been Jewish. When asked if he was, Chaplin would shake his head and reply, “I do not have that honor.”
I’ve written about this before. I’ll keep on writing about it as I feel moved to, not because I am a gay man but because I am a human being who sees the subjugation of my fellow citizens in my own country. I’m straight. My girlfriend and I can go to a courthouse and get married any day we feel like it. Gay friends of mine who might want to marry their partners do not have that same right. The only thing keeping it from them is bigotry — often religious, always inexcusable. The only thing propping up that bigotry is people like us, too embarrassed to fight it.