Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Last Great Struggle

By Garrison LovelyPublished May 1, 2013

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In a country where elected officials and Supreme Court justices compare gay sex to bestiality and incest, where overt and tacit discrimination still exists, where there is a living history of legal persecution, a public display of support goes a long way.
Last Tuesday, my friends gradually changed from people into red and pink double bars.  I was initially perplexed by this phenomenon, but soon discovered that this moment of Facebook solidarity was a show of support for equal marriage rights as the Supreme Court hears arguments on California’s Prop 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.  While nobody believes Antonin Scalia will care what’s showing up on his news feed, the impact this campaign has on members of the LGBTQ community is real.  In a country where elected officials and Supreme Court justices compare gay sex to bestiality and incest, where overt and tacit discrimination still exists, where there is a living history of legal persecution, a public display of support goes a long way. 

In the United States, homophobia seems to be the last acceptable prejudice.  Despite being an Eagle Scout, I feel great shame when I’m reminded of my organization’s active and continued discrimination against gay members and leaders.  Congressmen and senators utter sentences about the gay community that would kill their political careers if they were said about other minority groups. 

By discussing this issue as if both sides are equal, we accept the idea that the happiness of millions of people should be weighed as if it were any other policy proposal.  This allows homophobia to fester in society.  Our politicians set the tone and content of our national discourse.  By failing to condemn the bigoted rants made by a radical preacher or the discriminatory policies of a national organization, they give those ideas a dangerous degree of tacit legitimacy. 

It will take decades to stamp out homophobia from mainstream society, but the continued debate over the pros and cons of gay marriage postpones our progress.  The only way to become a truly accepting society is to start being a truly tolerant one. 

Equal marriage is not a matter of states’ rights or the people’s choice.  It is a civil right and a human right.  Marriage is a powerful expression of commitment that everyone deserves the right to make.  In the US, it is not merely a religious institution, but a civil one.  As such, the whims of religious leaders and ancient books are irrelevant to its legal standing. 

Civil Unions are not enough.  They offer every right with the exception of title.  Separate is inherently unequal.  Love is love.  Relegating the expression of that committed love to a fabricated term, which doesn’t carry the same weight, is an unacceptable separation, the same way interracial marriages aren’t “mixed marriages,” they’re marriages. 

There are concerns on the Court that a sweeping decision would be premature or invalidate the will of voters.  Civil rights are never early.  Rights cannot be left to the whims of voters, who have oftentimes in our history supported disgusting institutions like the Jim Crow South.  Public opinion is changing quickly, but in the legal language of rights, public opinion is irrelevant. 

The same arguments being made by contemporary culture warriors were made against the enfranchisement and equal recognition of blacks and women.  When studying the civil rights movement and the fierce institutional opposition in US history, I was baffled at how people so wrong could convince themselves they were right.  Eventually, our children will read about the debate on gay marriage in their history books and wonder how we could have been so wrong, just decades ago.  We readily condemn our past bigotry, but fail to recognize it in the present. 

Our nation was founded on the belief that each individual has a right to pursue his or her happiness, provided that their pursuit does not infringe on the rights of others.  There is no right in the United States to ban things that make you uncomfortable. 

I’m immensely proud of our nation and our ability to integrate so many different cultures, races, and opinions.  It is time to recognize that our national shame of discrimination wasn’t resolved with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  We have a long way to go, but the national allowance of gay marriage is a huge step in the right direction.