In a society where the commanding moral code is imposed by the dominant (those with enough symbolic, political and economic capital to throw around) on the dominated, the legality of gay marriage seems to maintain a prominent position on the roster of issues that highlight the tension between cultural myths and reality.
That is, the anxiety about homosexuals and homosexual partnerships manifests itself primarily amongst those on the fringes of moral righteousness — conservative characters such as Perry (R-TX) and Santorum (R-PA). In opposition to this reactionary ring is a considerable class of progressive, socially aware and often young people. The friction between these factions of moral perspective finds itself aflame in the media, on the streets and, increasingly, in courtrooms.
Last week on Feb. 7, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held Proposition 8 (the California Marriage Protection Act which banned same-sex marriage) unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The decision (Perry vs. Brown) therefore adhered to the Constitutional decree that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” But the decision does not answer the question of whether or not same-sex marriages should be allowed.
The enduring argument that proponents of constitutional amendments like Prop. 8 make is that exclusively heterosexual marriage is “an essential institution of society,” contending that the family structure of two opposite-sex parents is ideal for childbearing and child-rearing. They even go one step further, insisting that leaving the Constitution unchanged would “result in public schools teaching our kids that gay marriage is okay,” and that, additionally, “gays … do not have the right to redefine marriage for everyone else.”
The court, however, ruled that Proposition 8 “operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on gays and lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships, by taking away from them the official designation of ‘marriage’ [and] its societally recognized status.”
Having to make that statement, though, feels almost unnecessary. How is it that in the 21st century — an era where celebrity marriages last mere hours and children are born out of wedlock and knowingly into poverty — two people who genuinely love and care for one another (ultimately upholding the sanctity of marriage in and of itself) still cannot be recognized by the state simply because they share the same sexual orientation? To us, that question may seem tacit, implying our understanding of the self-evidence of homosexuality. But again, the social circumstances of our generation afford us that understanding.
In a time when more gay individuals are coming out — both the famous and the familiar to us — and more socially conservative individuals are endorsing campaigns for president, the urgent need for a widespread and persistent social movement for gay rights becomes even more apparent.
Our role in such a movement must be aware, active and ardent. And if this is the civil rights movement of our time, then we cannot afford to stand idly by, not on the side of history. To do so would be to perpetuate the larger social deficiencies that are embedded, but broadly unopposed, in our collective conscious.
To sign the Human Rights Campaign’s “Millions for Marriage Equality” petition go to: www.millionsformarriage.org.