Living in Northern California affords one many luxuries. We’re privy to good food, a diverse culture, and relatively temperate climates to aide in our comfortable lifestyle. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying it’s a modern paradise, a certifiable Shangri-La at the West end of the United States where dreams can come true for anyone.
However, living in such a great place makes one conscious not only of privilege, but conscious of those that cannot share in the most basic of privileges. The privileges I’m speaking of are those regarding the gay and lesbian community’s struggle for civic and financial equality. As someone that lives in San Francisco, the proverbial front line of the gay marriage debate, I’m extremely empathetic to those battling to maintain an equitable display of love and the governmental benefits that ensue because of that love.
Therefore, I’d like to take the time to outline what I perceive to be the crux of the issue. I’ve done my best to approach the issue from an objective standpoint, and I hope to illustrate why both sides (Not just those against gay marriage) fail to get at the real heart of the problem.
For starters, there is the plain simple fact that same sex couples are being financially discriminated against. By prohibiting these couples from obtaining marriage licenses (as they exist today), state governments are denying these individuals benefits based on one aspect of their sexuality, something inexcusable even in our country’s Constitution.
Regardless of what anyone’s personal feelings are on the topic of gay and lesbian relationships, denying these couples the financial benefits based on sexual preference is an insidious mutation of segregation. For lack of a better way to say it, if two people would like to spend the rest of their lives together, it should not matter what sex they belong to. If governments are willing to allow tax breaks, inheritance benefits, and legal privileges to heterosexual couples, there is little argument to withhold them from homosexual ones.
The other problem we face in the gay marriage issue is the traditional construction of marriage within our society. I specify this because there are issues of culture here, and such nuances aren’t played up in the mainstream debate. Since Prop 8’s victory in California, there’s been an overwhelming group of people claiming that state of marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. These cries have, for the most part, stemmed from religious groups, whose ritualistic take on marriage requires both a bride and a groom.
Here is where it gets complicated: Those battling over the idea of gay marriage are battling over semantics when the real injustice is financial equality.
The ideal separation between church and state in this country should allow these religious groups to practice marriage in a fashion that stays true their faiths. It goes against the tenants this country was founded on to force such changes on religious groups. In short, it would force a change a lifestyle to accommodate a few. Sound familiar?
Yet at the same time, it is also irresponsible for governments (Both state and federal) to lack an equitable channel for same sex couples to gain the same marriage benefits as straight ones based on a implied cultural definition of marriage. Therefore, while governments should not be looked to as the arbiter to change cultural institutions, they do need to be held accountable to change financial ones.
Unfortunately, both sides seem distracted.
Those opposing gay rights crusade to protect the idea of traditional marriage.
Those who champion for gay rights say they’ll fight to get married because the word marriage is important to them.
At the end of the day, do we really need government to say “These two people love each other…?” I’m not sure that we do. We need government to provide equitable privileges to all its citizens, and secure/protect the rights that are entitled to us as Americans.
So what needs to happen?
Well, churches should hardly be asked to modify rituals in a way that goes against their teachings, even if those teachings are exclusive in nature. Additionally, governments need to set up a method that assures gay and lesbian couples the same benefits as married heterosexual couples. Maybe it’s not called marriage, maybe it is, maybe they’re some hybrid of civil unions. Either way, there needs to be compromise regardless of what it’s called. Legislation needs to catch up with the times, much like it did in the 1960s, and it needs to focus on securing secular rights rather than infringing on cultural semantics. At the end of the day, no one can tell a person who to love, and a slip of paper that says “Marriage License” is no exception.
Instead, we should be granting these couples the same privileges we’d grant any other couple in love.
But more than that, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way Americans approach the idea of homosexuality. Sexual preference is not a means to define a human being, nor has it ever been. Sadly, it would seem at least half the country “tolerates” homosexuality when it should be “accepted.” There is a strong “Us vs Them” mentality in this country (even in
), that gay and lesbian individuals are different from straight ones. Instead, there needs to be a conscious effort on the part of every individual not to ignore sexual orientation or preference, but to regard it as merely part of a person, not the whole person.
This isn’t a call to arms to picket, sign petitions, or go through the motions of empty grass roots politics. Such movements gather little momentum, or are focused on attacking the supposed enemy. Instead it’s a call to behave as a human being, a call to recognize the qualities of life that each person should be enfranchised to share, and a call to identify the cultural modifiers that keep human beings from sharing in them. It is in this way that I believe human beings can change attitudes, social norms, and, eventually, laws.
Still, things of this nature take time. A willingness to come together for change, rather than a rally to fight, takes time that neither side really wants to spend. Yet perhaps if both sides of the gay rights issue looked at what privileges are really up for debate, then maybe we’d come to a far quicker solution and far more compassionate society.
Mike @ Twitter – www.twitter.com/MikeDiGrande