What started as a candid Facebook post turned into a bit of a frenzy. I’ve found that matters of sexual orientation don’t enter into normal conversation much. In spite of several efforts to address it among certain friends and colleagues, I’ve never been able to steer our conversations in the appropriate direction, so it swings back around to whatever we were discussing before. And indeed, if straight people don’t talk about the fact that they’re straight, why must gay people feel they ought to do the same?
Granted, there are some times where it makes sense to admit it up front: my roommates know, my ex-coworkers know, most of my family knows. But my sexual orientation doesn’t define me any more than the fact that I have blue eyes — and I don’t think it should. Anyone curious enough can easily determine my sexual orientation simply by asking (or even just Googling). It’s not something I hide. I just never discuss it until it’s necessary.
Now is one of those times where it’s necessary.
I’m not going to bore you with arguments trying to refute Biblical messages, or claims trying to dismiss those who believe that gay marriage would ruin the sanctity of the atomic family. While I may not agree with the conservative viewpoint, I feel the issue before the Supreme Court this week is much deeper. This debate is not about gay marriage. This debate is not about families. This debate is about personal freedoms, the role that government should play in our lives, and securing access to the Jeffersonian “pursuit of happiness.”
Oddly, it seems that those who hold to traditional views on marriage also seem to claim to support those very views. They claim that “marriage equality demands knowing what marriage is,” and they are absolutely correct. Marriage has meant many things since the dawn of civilization and means different things to different cultures across the globe. Even today, arranged marriages and those for the sake of financial or political power are still common. Are these marriages the same as two individuals independently deciding — after careful thought and consideration — that they truly love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together? I don’t think so.
I do admit that in our culture, marriage is considered a sacred religious contract. But if that were merely the case, the First Amendment and its separation of church and state would prohibit legal recognition of religious marriage at all. Clearly that’s not quite right.
So when I talk about marriage, I’m not talking about religious marriage or even “family” matters. Instead, I’m talking merely about those rights that U.S. law grants “married” couples: you can keep your Bible as is; I simply want visitation and inheritance rights.
This debate may best be solved by splitting the terms. Let “marriage” signify religious marriage, and let all legal unions — between two men, two women, or a woman and a man — be considered just that — “civil unions.” The words themselves are not all that important — as long as they’re applied equally to all couples. But barring such a dramatic find-replace on state and federal law, it’s important to remember that when this debate sits in front of the Supreme Court, it’s not a debate about religion. It can’t be a debate about religion. It’s a debate about whether the United States government ought to control the right to define who is allowed to enter into one of the most important contracts of his or her life. If we grant our government this authority, then we also must grant our government the ability to control who can buy a house, who can start a business, and who is allowed to go to college.
It’s silly to consider the thought that one would be legally forbidden to join an LLC because he has blue eyes and the other partners have brown eyes. Why, then, is there such a heated debate over whether two men should be able to sign a marriage license?
Some argue that they are promoting a “healthy family,” but again, they are holding to the draconian notion that this is something the State should be given the right to enforce. Same with those who believe that marriage exists only for the sake of supporting procreation. Would those same people argue that people who have green eyes shouldn’t be legally permitted to engage in commercial activities because people with green eyes are stupid? It doesn’t seem so — because even if there were decent evidence to suggest that green-eyed people are, indeed, not very smart, this contradicts the very notion of a free market and lassiez-faire capitalism on which our country was built.
Even with legal blessing from the Supreme Court, it will be many years before young gay men feel as comfortable about their sexuality as I do, and longer still before gays and lesbians have secured the same opportunities as straight couples. What I want — and what I think I deserve — has nothing to do with families or religion. I’m not asking for special privileges, or even cultural permission. I just want to have the same legal rights as every other citizen with blue eyes and a big heart. I just want the right to be an American.