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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Thursday, August 14, 2003

When it comes to marriage, what are the straights so afraid of?

Bush, The Vatican, and the heterosexual agenda

By Steve Charing

On the heels of recent major developments in the history of gay civil rights, the buzz continues to focus on (the fear of) same-sex marriages. From the Pope to President Bush, many leaders are scurrying to quell what they dread as inevitable: two gay men or two lesbians at the altar, taking their vows, and gaining the multitude of benefits that would accrue.

The threat of a Constitutional amendment by Republicans, a decree by the Vatican and a discernible backlash towards gays by the public are hurdles that are well nigh impossible to leap at this time. Our only hope is the Democratic Party, but the leading presidential candidates including the darling of the rainbows, Howard Dean, are opposed to same-sex marriages, albeit some form of “civil union” has been deemed acceptable. Only the three underdog candidates support the legalization of gay marriages, but, alas, they’re not likely to be around past the New Hampshire primary.

Initially, I believed such legalization would be a likely outcome following recent progressive victories on sodomy, the confirmation of a gay Episcopalian bishop and the ruling on same-sex marriages in Canada. However, it is becoming more and more apparent that this important step is still a ways off in the U.S. of A. There is no doubt there is a backlash; the polling data are all showing slippage in heterosexual support for gay rights and same-sex marriage in particular. And as long as the public is not supporting same-sex marriage, neither will the politicians.
Make no mistake about it, in this country if you are single - gay or straight - you are just this side of being a pariah. If you don’t believe me, review the latest ill-timed tax cuts that President Bush bullied through Congress and signed. Besides his fat cat contributors, who else benefited? Married people and those with kids (at $400 a pop) reaped the harvest the most. Single people?

Screw them!

This is unfairness in the grossest form. A man can pick up a woman in a drunken stupor in a bar and get a quickie marriage the next day and enjoy all the social and economic advantages that accompany it. But two men or two women who love each other and have done so for 3, 5, 10, 20, even 30 years get to watch married people and their kiddies receive government handouts in the mail. While a member of a heterosexual couple can enjoy visitation rights at a hospital and make decisions when the other partner is incapacitated, neither member of a gay couple is legally permitted to do so unless provisions are made in a will.

It is mind-boggling that heterosexuals condemn gays and lesbians for wanting to form a marriage bond as a natural extension of love. For so many years, the lgbt community has been chastised for fostering transient, unstable and promiscuous relationships. Yet, when we try to succeed at something heterosexual America has largely failed, it’s a no-go.

Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) perhaps said it best: “Incredibly, Mr. Bush is trying to persuade the country that instead of persistent high unemployment, one trillion dollars in new federal debt over the next two years, continued American deaths in Iraq, unhindered progress towards a North Korean nuclear capacity and a bogging down on his agenda in Congress, Americans should be seriously worried about the prospect that two men who love each other might be allowed to become legally and financially responsible for each other.”

If a gay man wants to marry another gay man and two lesbians want to do the same, what are straights so afraid of? Are we really wrecking their marriages? Can anybody cite a single instance when a heterosexual marriage disintegrated because of gay coupling by others?

There are two major factors that serve as the basis for straight opposition. The first, of course, is on religious grounds. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that homosexuality is a sin. Assuming one believes in that doctrine, should only non-sinners be allowed to marry? Anyone who eats pork or shellfish is committing a sin. Anyone who commits adultery or has sex outside marriage is committing a sin.

President Bush acknowledged that everyone sins, but why is it that homosexual “sin” is selectively more egregious than the other “sins”? Nearly 60 percent of all single college students living away from home admit to an active sex life (and I believe that’s underreported). A whole new generation of “sinners,” therefore, is being harvested in the nation’s dorms. More to the point, as “sinners,” why should these young men and women be permitted to marry when gays can’t? Even convicted felons can marry.

The other rationale for straight opposition to same-sex marriage is that it would somehow cause the erosion of the traditional man-woman marriage - you know, tearing the fabric of society. Oh, really? I think the heterosexuals of America have done a fairly decent job of that on their own..

When virtually all marriage vows conclude with “until death do us part,” do you think the intent was that it would be violated in every other instance? To be sure, heterosexual marriages fail at an alarming 50 percent clip. And I venture to guess that at least half of the remaining fools are clinging to unhappy, unfulfilling, loveless, sexless marriages probably because of concern for their kids or a reluctance to divvy up their capital. Three quarters of divorcees simply re-marry and the cycle of unstable families goes on.

Heterosexuals continue their assault on marriage by trivializing it in so-called TV reality shows. When an anonymous audience chooses your supposed lifetime mate or when you get to select your spouse from a group of 15 chosen by a TV producer, or the children decide on who’s best for Pop, or the parents choose a child’s spouse, you’re not going to tell me that marriage isn’t being marginalized. Straight people apparently delight in making a mockery of marriage, but gay marriages would demean theirs. Go figure.

The argument that same-sex marriages will hurt the traditional institution is bogus. To the best of my knowledge, marriages aren’t falling apart in the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Croatia, Iceland, Belgium and Canada since same-sex marriages or civil unions have been recognized there.

But in the United States, where gays have forever been vilified for promiscuous, unhealthy sex and at the same time berated for wanting a legally-based union, one can see how backward and screwed up this nation and its leaders really are.You can join the fight to prevent a Constitutional amendment from outlawing same-sex marriages by visiting www.millionformarriage.org.

Monday, June 09, 2003

America Shrugs as Gays Marry in Massachusetts

By Steve Charing

As bad as the disgraceful abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has been for our country and humankind in general, it was a blessing in disguise for the lgbt community. Because on May 17, when gays and lesbians were legally entitled to marry in Massachusetts, the word of this historic breakthrough, while extremely significant to us, was overshadowed by other news. This prevented an immediate backlash from determined and bitter opponents.

Not only was “Prison-gate” (as I choose to dub it) a major distraction in the media, but the 50th anniversary of another civil rights victory—the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” status is unconstitutional in the U.S.—also made the headlines.

These events, in some strange way, formed a nexus in that they all involved either the abuse of human rights or advancing the equalization of civil rights. The rights of an individual swept away by maltreatment at the hands of American guards and other military personnel, or commemorating the de-segregation of public schools across the country, or elevating gays and lesbians from second-class status to equality (at least in Massachusetts) all intersected on May 17.

Many gay activists would have preferred that the onset of legal nuptials in the Bay State be story number one; that there be no clatter from other news to compete with what is arguably the most astounding development in the history of the gay civil rights movement, perhaps more so than the Stonewall uprising 35 years ago. That’s understandable.

May 17 can conceivably be our Independence Day. It could be marked by annual celebrations similar to those for Gay Pride, normally held in June to coincide with Stonewall. For on this day, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts was indeed historic. In this world, in this 21st century only Belgium, the Netherlands and parts of Canada allowed gay and lesbian couples to be legally married and conferred all the rights of married heterosexuals. On this day—a day filled with tears and joy from those who participated and the good folks who worked so hard to accomplish this unlikely feat—gays and lesbians can assume equal standing with their heterosexual counterparts.

So why is it a good thing that this landmark event be overshadowed by others? The answer is that the less hoopla attached to this occasion, the less likely the heterosexual population would be turned off. This dynamic is extremely vital in the quest for not only preserving same-sex marriage in Massachusetts but also to broaden this right and to allow recognition from other states.
The road to full equality is expected to be treacherous, with numerous potholes and landmines to navigate around.

President Bush steadfastly opposes same-sex marriage. “Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman,” Bush said. “If activist judges insist on re-defining marriage by court order, the only alternative will be the constitutional process. We must do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage.” Consequently, the President has endorsed, and is encouraging, a federal constitutional amendment aimed at prohibiting gays and lesbians from ever marrying legally and thus, relegating the lgbt community to second-class status. If successful, such action would for the first time enshrine discrimination into the nation’s most hallowed document.

Moreover, the issue in Massachusetts is far from settled. In an effort to undo the court’s decision, the legislature, during an acrimonious session, passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It must successfully pass a similar amendment next year, and the people will vote by referendum in 2006. It is therefore possible that all these marriages have begun one minute after midnight on May 17 in Cambridge and continuing on throughout the state may be voided, and no further same-sex couples will be legally permitted to marry.

In addition, many other states are seeking similar measures to prevent same-sex marriages. Some in “battleground” states will be placing the issue right smack on the ballot in November—a cynical attempt by Republicans to force the question and bring out those pesky religious fundamentalists to the polls. Other states are scrambling to ensure that same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts would not be recognized in their own backyards.

Most polls taken since the now famous ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court last summer and reaffirmed in February indicate that, when asked, approximately three out of five in the U.S. oppose same-sex marriage. That’s the result when people are confronted with the issue directly. However, I believe the data is skewed negatively in this particular matter.

With steadily rising gasoline prices, an incredibly horrific turn of events in Iraq, an economic recovery muted by declining consumer confidence, the loss of jobs, our prestige abroad all but eliminated, not to mention legitimate concerns for their own marriages and families, it is highly unlikely that same-sex marriage is a prominent issue around the dinner tables in heterosexual households.

When the news hit on May 17 that “gay marriages” were taking place, some of the potential incendiary rhetoric was muffled by the other weighty stories. At the various courthouses in Massachusetts that day, there were a few disorganized and ineffective demonstrations from the “God Hates Fags” crowd. Although TV stations were careful to include the voices of gay rights opponents as part of their coverage, these demonstrators too had to take a back seat to the other news of the day.

Having these marriages take place is crucial. It is somewhat more difficult politically and morally to remove rights once they are obtained. The country must see once and for all that the world will not come to an end now that lesbians and gay men are allowed to marry. As one happy member of a newly-married couple put it, “I can’t see how the world would shake if two middle-aged women opened up a checking account together.”

That is the message that must flow from this historic day. The nation’s problems will be there, same-sex marriages or not. The good things in life will be there, same-sex marriages or not. There are larger problems facing most Americans.

So when hundreds of ecstatic gay and lesbian couples received marriage certificates, America merely shrugged. And that’s the way it should be.