In my Facebook profile, I describe myself as “slightly right of center” politically. That means I can usually see both sides of an argument, and seldom agree completely with either. It also means that my opinion tends to irritate people from both sides of the political aisle, and I suspect this will be no different.
Among my circle of friends are individuals who are openly gay – and others a little less open – and if you were to ask them they’d confirm the following: I am not comfortable with the concept of homosexuality. I was raised in a conservative time and manner, where such things were expected to remain in the closet, and in a church where, as most churches still do today, homosexuality was seen as a moral failure. Even today, as enlightened as I like to consider myself to be, I find it difficult to understand how someone looks as someone of the same sex and finds love.
That said, I believe that yesterday’s decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to declare unconstitutional California’s voter-approved Proposition 8, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, is not only the right decision, but the only decision he could have made.
I”m no legal scholar, but in my mind this day became inevitable the moment the first government got involved with the marriage business. Originally, the church was the de-facto government, providing stability and social order to untamed societies. You got married by the church, everyone recognized you as married, and that was it. Eventually, though, as what we see today as a traditional government began to take on some of the role of the church in providing for the welfare of the people, government chose to provide a parallel process to the church wedding, both allowing governmental recognition of church marriages as well as providing a pathway to marriage for those who opt out of the traditional religious wedding. That’s why while you today you may get married in the local church, you apply to the government for a marriage license – and that license is what yesterday’s decision is all about.
Whether you’re married in front of the altar or in front of a clerk, the marriage license represents a contract with the state, not the church, and is therefore ruled by the Constitution, not the Bible. The church has every right to determine who can or cannot be married in their sanctuaries, or have their marriages recognized by their members. But our Founding Fathers understood the importance of separation of church and state, and built it right into the Constitution by which we are ruled today – and which drove Judge Walker’s decision yesterday. The State cannot force the People to accept homosexuality – tolerate yes, accept no. But at the same time, the People cannot force the State to deny benefits to some they would grant to others, simply based on that lack of acceptance.
It’s worth noting that while Proposition 8 did successfully pass and is the law of the State of California, it hardly came with a ringing mandate – only slightly over 52% of the votes were in favor of the new law. Frankly, I think a lot of people were just like me – unwilling to vote for it, but afraid to vote against it as well. Change is a scary thing for people, and gay marriage represents change. But sometimes, the right thing to do is to take a deep breath and face, rather than fight, the change.
Once upon a time, a boy and a girl grew up, fell in love, got married and raised their kids alongside the rest of the crops on the farm. That was traditional marriage, and proponents of Proposition 8 point to that tradition as part of what they are trying to defend. But look around – the traditional family was gone long before homosexuals began their push for marriage. Science helps couples have children even if both parents are sterile, same-sex couples use surrogates to have children, single people adopt children from around the world – the needs that the traditional marriage provide have long since been met in many different ways. You don’t have to like the direction that society might be moving, but you cannot deny it – and you certainly can’t try and use the law to stuff the cork back in the bottle.
I have a former girlfriend who is a lesbian. She was gay when I met her, although I was probably in denial about it, and she’s gay today, part of a stable, loving couple. That she tried so hard to be someone she was not just to be with me will always be a source of immense pride. But she is who she is, and while I may not be comfortable with it, I do not have the right to tell her who she should be. Similarly, if we the people offer through our government a service to couples – that service being the civil contract of marriage, and all the benefits that come with it – we do not have the right to pick and choose what couples we offer the service to. Believe me, there are plenty of heterosexual married couples that I’d deny the right of marriage to if I could, but you don’t see anyone suggesting we do that.
Back in the early ’90s, I was a supervisor in an assembly area. One of my employees was gay, and her partner worked in an adjoining area, so I saw the kind of interaction they had on a daily basis. It was a new experience for me, and I was surprised to see that they faced the exact same changes any other couple goes through – the ups and downs, the fun and the friction, the financial challenges and the shared celebrations. Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise since, gender aside, they were simply two people in love, trying to build a life together.
I’m someone who’s relationship history can be described as hit-and-miss at best, so I can appreciate how hard it is to find that one right person. Imagine if on top of all of the challenges that life places on each of us, you felt so uncomfortable in the traditional gender role that society placed upon you that you are willing to face the scorn that we all know the community continues to place on anyone who is different – just to find true happiness. Do we as a society really want to tell them they are wrong for trying, when all they ask for is the chance to live their life the way we live ours? Whether you accept or reject the notion of homosexual relationships, there’s no denying that gay marriage will do nothing to damage the fabric of our society. Whatever changes it may be seen to represent were set in motion long ago, and the granting of rights to homosexuals is as inevitable and right as it was to blacks and women before.
In the end, what are gays and lesbians really asking for? All they want is the right to face the challenges of life, hand in hand and side by side with the one they love, sanctioned by their government the same as any other couple. How is that fundamentally any different from what I want for myself? I’ll probably never be comfortable with the concept of gay marriage, and will always feel a bit uneasy around a gay couple. But if two people in love want to try and face the challenges of married life together, I’ll be damned if I’ll be the one to tell them they can’t.