Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Fight for Marriage Equality

Time and time again, we prove that as a society we have a long way to go.

Just this week the New York State Senate delayed the vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. A week prior, residents of Maine voted in favor of Prop 1 to overturn a law legalizing gay marriage, a law that was passed just six months prior. And in California, on the same day Sen. Barack Obama was voted into presidential office, Prop 8 was passed, which returned same-sex marriage to its outcast status.

In the Declaration of Independence our forefathers included the idea “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In the land of the free and home of the brave this would seem to be a fitting idea.

Apparently not. In what appears an obvious objection to the separation of church and state, the “Creator” segment of the statement appears to be the prevailing power. In some religious circles the “Creator” identifies “men” with an asterisk. The “men” granted the inalienable rights are the men who love women. Or the women who love men. No men loving men, or women loving women. If you want the unalienable rights, you’d better play by the rules – God’s rules.

The problem is that at its core, same-sex marriage isn’t and shouldn’t be about religion – it’s about people of varying ages, race, sex and ideologies. It’s a matter of all humans receiving equal treatment.

So, a portion of the population is being oppressed by a belief system. A belief system that defies the laws of science. A belief system that speaks of a man walking on water. A belief system based on a book that condones the beating of wives and endorses slavery. It’s also a belief system that aims to protect the sanctity of marriage. And yet, in the last census half of first marriages ended in divorce.

There was a reason for adopting John Locke’s idea of separation of church and state. The idea, which was later repeated by Thomas Jefferson, aimed to insure that in matters of government, the doctrine of man and that of God, would remain separate in determining matters of the people. Instead, the church has used its influence over its respective congregations to become a force in deciding issues in government. Where people are supposed to be using reason and objectivity, they instead rely on religion teachings to make their decisions.

In his inauguration speech on January 21, 2008, President Obama referred to the fateful passage from the Declaration of Independence. On a day when the people of this country were embracing or preparing for change, the passage was cited as a tenet of future prosperity. He spoke of unifying the country behind the premise of moving forward beyond war, terror, debt, a failing education system and a failing healthcare system. But what about ignorance?

As a country, we’ve encountered similar obstacles before. Following years of abuse, slavery of humans was abolished. After years of fighting, women were granted the right to vote. And despite years of upheaval in the fight for gay rights, things are getting better. Support is growing. It’s only a matter of time before a national law passes, legalizing same-sex marriage once and for all.

Until that point, the fight will rage on. Religious institutions will dump funding into defamation campaigns, hoping to gather votes by misleading or scaring uninformed voters with misinformation. The gay community will refuse to give in, and more people will rise from the cloud of ignorance and realize that being gay isn’t a sin or a curable disease, it’s a part of the human fabric.

At a candlelight vigil held in Union Square in Manhattan the evening before the New York State Senate was to decide whether to vote on the bill, two men stood amongst the crowd with solemn looks on their faces. Both had a child in a carrier dangling from their chest. These was a perfectly respectable, loving couple that was on the brink of having a government institution tell them they’re second rate. That they can pay taxes, vote, hold jobs, use state parks, speak with their government representative, but ultimately, they would not have the freedom to engage in a simple foundation of the human experience. They could pursue life, liberty and happiness, but only in a manner the people deemed appropriate.

Why not begin living up to the reputation this country was founded upon? If we’re going to boast of freedom, it needs to be available to all or none.

Written for Personal & Professional Style at Columbia University.

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