Why I'm Fighting For Marriage Equality
Commentary: In the wake of the November election, it's been hard for many of us to square our excitement over the historic election of Barack Obama with the passage of Proposition 8 in California. Coming to terms with this has caused me to reflect how I, a filmmaker, got so involved in what I believe to be the defining civil rights issue of the present.
I'm a single gay man, no imminent threat to the institution of marriage. But I've been working hard for marriage equality for the past four years because I realized that this issue is the linch-pin to full equal rights for all LGBT folks -- single or coupled.
This isn't simply about who wants to get married and who doesn't. As important as the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage are (and they are; Social Security anyone?), the denial of those rights is not simply a case of "separate but equal." It's the institutionalization of bigotry that says our love is not really love, our families are not really legit, and our desire to belong as full members of our communities is only welcome with a giant scarlet asterisk next to it. Something like, "You're cute and entertaining but don't ask for too much."
You put that in the Constitution, and it's personal. It wounds.
While we celebrate the progress of the Obama victory, let's consider the invisible and impossible-to-measure toll that discrimination enshrined in the law takes on gay people:
• the high rate of suicide among our nation's queer youth,
• the high rate of depression among a people coping with a lifetime of homophobia,
• the high rate of self-destructive behaviors among our adults, many of whom devalue their own worth because "you don't count" is all they've ever known,
• the high rate of cynicism when it comes to relationships (especially among gay men) because we are taught from the get go that our relationships are not valued (in fact, we rarely even see them because society asks for them to remain hidden),
• the high rate of violence against LGBT people, including under-reported rape and abuse,
• the countless family bonds needlessly broken and the real hurt this visits upon children.
Of course, I could go on. That the discrimination has been so pervasive and in plain sight sometimes makes it easy to take for granted. For all of the Hillary supporters frustrated by the casual dismissal of sexism's toll; welcome to my world.
Yes, most of us are familiar with the gay-bashing that is the public face of homophobia's extremes. But the Mathew Shepards of this world signify only a small fraction of the toll. Every last gay person I know has had their dreams thwarted or at least second-guessed at some time in their lives. The fear of discrimination is far more pervasive than the actual discrimination, and its damage, internalized, has a tragic cost -- including in how we treat each other.
Just as they seek to do with Barack Obama, our opponents have always branded us as an "other." In this moment of renewed hope, surely we can do better by the next generation of LGBT citizens and teach them that they are part of we. Let's not shut down their dreams of "happy ever after" from the very beginning. Just because we are used to bigotry, and just because we are as liable to internalize it as we are to stand up against it -- it does not make it okay.
I'm thrilled about the election of Obama -- just as I'm grateful for the remarkable progress in our movement witnessed in my lifetime. But there is never a "right time" to wait for equality to arrive. True equality is long overdue. If "marriage" is just a word, then why the hell are we fighting about it?
Because it means nothing less than "equal."
Think about it: once our relationships are legitimized there is nothing left to fight about. End of story. We can get back to working on saving the planet and our 401ks.
Last, to the sympathetic straight bystanders, consider this: none of us have equal rights until we all do. You and I are unequal in the eyes of the law -- regardless of how we view each other. And to the gay folks reading: congrats on being stoic and resilient. Now let's get back to work and claim what's ours.