I first thought about writing this post back in July when I saw these portraits of newlywed same-sex couples in New York State on BuzzFeed.com. The snapshots of happy couples celebrating not only their love, but their right to legally express it, is the only proof I need that New York State did the right thing by recognizing same-sex marriage (although it was too long in coming). Naively, I think part of me thought this was all the proof anyone would ever need that legalizing same-sex marriage is not merely the kind thing to do, it is the right and just thing to do. Maybe I thought that this was all the proof anyone would need that far from destroying the sanctity of marriage, allowing people who have maintained a loving relationship through adversity to legalize this bond through marriage would only add deeper and fuller meaning to the institution.
But of course, and alas, I was wrong. As mind-boggling as it is to me, the idea that two consenting adults who love each other should be allowed to marry regardless of gender is not plain old common sense to many people, including here in Canada (you’ll find you don’t hear too many Conservative Party MPs speaking up in support of marriage equality).
I say mind-boggling not because I want to use some hyperbole today, but because I truly don’t understand. When I first found out what homosexuality was when I was a young, it was described to me as “when a man loves another man or a woman loves another woman.” Because back then I assumed that everyone who fell in love got married, I assumed this meant gay couples, being in love, would be getting married too. Much to my embarrassment, it was not actually until same-sex marriage was legalized in Saskatchewan in 2004 and I heard the hoopla surrounding it in the media that I was even aware that gay and lesbian couples had not previously been allowed to marry.
Having spent my entire youth assuming same-sex couples had the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples and being totally okay with it, not even giving it a second thought whatsoever, the idea that not everyone is okay with this, and that this is ANYONE else’s business besides the couple who wants to get married, was a total shock to me. It made no sense to me back then and it makes no sense to me now.
Last summer, I read US District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s ruling overturning California’s Proposition 8, a voter approved proposition renewing the State of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, on the grounds that it violates the rights of same sex couples. In the ruling, Judge Walker notes that,
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples.
If you wish to read Judge Walker’s entire ruling on Proposition 8, it is available on Scribd.com at the link provided.
Judge Walker’s ruling brought up other key points that I thought were important to address. Firstly, that it is in society’s best interest, both socially and economically, that couples marry, providing emotional, medical, and financial support for one another in family units (these interests do not rely on the couples being of opposite genders). The ruling also pointed out that while the supporters of Proposition 8 (the defendants in this ruling) claimed that the proposition protected children from harm, it had already been deemed unconstitutional for the State of California to refuse adoption to same-sex couples on the basis of their sexual orientation and therefore there was no legal precedent set with regards to needing to “protect” children from homosexuality.
I remember being shocked again, and also sickened, when I read the argument presented to the voters in 2008 in support of Prop. 8:
It protects our children from being taught in public schools that “same-sex marriage” is the same as traditional marriage. * * * While death, divorce, or other circumstances may prevent the ideal, the best situation for a child is to be raised by a married mother and father.
If the gay marriage ruling [of the California Supreme Court] is not overturned, TEACHERS COULD BE REQUIRED to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage.
[This information is to be found on page 7 of the ruling]
This is the part that makes me sick. This is the part that makes me angry. This is the part that means I need to write this post. Because what IS the oh-so-vital difference between “traditional” marriage and same-sex marriage, hm? That it’s a loving bond between two consenting adults? Same in both marriages. That it is a legal bond joining two people who live together and share financial resources? Same in both marriages. That it provides a stable structure in which to raise a family? As proven by the number of same-sex couples that adopt or choose to have biological children, same in both marriages.
The only conclusion I can come to is that the defendants of Proposition 8 want to make sure that children know that heterosexual couples are better. Not for any specific reason, but because they just are. And if heterosexual couples are better, it follows that heterosexual people are better too, right? That homosexual people, despite making up 10% of the population, are abnormal, and inferior. The sickest part of all is not that these people want to trumpet these values among themselves, but that it is so vital that the most important people to receive these messages of hate, and learn to hate and fear others, for reasons that at their age they wouldn’t even understand, are children.
Who’s harming children now? Certainly not loving couples who just want to get married.
The horrific, and too often fatal harm that this homophobic value has on children was brought home to me last Saturday when I watched the play Leave of Absence by Lucia Frangione, the third piece in an evening of works called “Short and Sweet”, presented by ACTivist Theatre and Amnesty International as part of this year’s Vancouver International Fringe Festival. I was incredibly upset by this piece, and the story of its protagonist Blake, a ninth-grader who falls victim to contempt, ostracism, and vicious brutality because she, and more importantly, her teachers and peers at her Catholic school, are confused by and afraid of her sexuality. The harmful effects that homophobic attitudes have on innocent children is made sickeningly evident in this beautifully written and tightly performed play.
Does Leave of Absence and the story of Blake deal with same-sex marriage? No, it does not. But when children are taught that some people are simply better than others (as they are when they are taught some marriages are better), they are also learning the inverse of this better-ness: that those who are not better, are worse. And that these people who are better are normal, while the others are deficient, deviant, and depraved. The saying “children are cruel” is a cliche because so often it seems true. Being a child is scary. Growing up is scary. Children, especially adolescents, are under intense pressure to live up to the expectations imposed by their parents, their school, the media, their peers, and themselves. They want to feel superior, and when you give them that chance, when you sanction and support the idea that some people are inferior to them, when you specifically point the inferior ones out as this one or that one, this gay boy, that lesbian girl, the intense pressure children are under finds a terrible outlet.
Instead of trying to figure out how such nice children could do such terrible things to each other, instead ask yourself who told these children that it was okay. Because if you have told a child that another person is worse than them, is disgusting and abnormal, you have told them that it is okay to behave in a hateful way towards that person. And the harm done is no one’s fault but your own.
One only needs to look at the impetus for the It Gets Better Project to see the real-life consequences of encouraging homophobia in children. Because of homophobia and homophobic attitudes, children are dead. I would posit that anyone who still believes that these innocent children deserved the treatment that led to their desperate actions is the one who is abnormal, deficient, and lacking a loving heart.
Many of the comments on online articles dealing with Proposition 8, for example, are so nonsensical and disgusting to me I can barely bring myself to read more than a few. The hatred being directed at people who just want to live their lives with the person they love is frankly alarming. Most of the arguments against same-sex marriage seem to take their position from the Bible. Well, guess what? You’re in a western democracy. Your country operates through a separation of church and state. It is not the government’s job to uphold your religious beliefs and force others to live by them. Your beliefs and your lifestyle are not the only way of living. If you don’t like it, find another Mayflower and go live on a deserted island where you can be as prejudiced as you like. If statistics are anything to go by, in a few generations, 10% of the population of your desert island will be gay, whether you allow them to express themselves or not.
Or, you know, you could stay where you are, and mind your own business. Because ultimately, even though I myself feel very strongly about marriage equality, whether or not two people decide to get married is none of my business. And it is none of yours. The love of two consenting adults, no matter their gender, does not diminish the love I have in my life. Should I choose to marry in the future, the marriage of two consenting adults, no matter their gender, will not diminish my marriage.
In fact, the more love and happiness there is in the world, the more respect and equality in society, the better every institution will be, the happier my life, and the safer my future children.