On Tuesday, Maryland passed a establishing gay marriage. Other states, too, but Maryland’s vote affected me more than most. I worked one summer in the Virginia suburbs of DC an I ell in love with Silver Springs, a city on the Maryland side of that city. I’ve also visited Baltimore a few times in the last several years. That’s not enough to make me a local, but it does make Maryland feel much closer to my heart than any of the states considering marriage equality. And I’m so proud of them – that in this first group of states where voters extended marriage rights to homosexual couples, Maryland was part of it all.
Dawn Felagund wrote two lovely posts (here and here) talking about how this ballot initiative affects her personally. Do go read them – her posts are touching and heart-felt and well-written to boot. Since she handled that angle better than I could, and since she’s more directly affected in any case, I thought I’d take a slightly different tack. So in honor of Maryland and all the other states that made this first leap forward, I want to lay out three major reasons why I’m in favor of this referendum, and one reason I’m not.
1. Because marriage equality is equality for me, too. In most states, the government is willing to say that the love between a man and a woman is somehow more worthy of recognition than the love between two men or two women. The only wan this makes any sense at all to me is if you think men are so different from women that a relationship where you didn’t have these two different things involved falls short of a heterosexual relationship, which does have that variety. I am thankful to Maryland for saying if I loved a woman, that love would be just as worthy of respect.
This is a good thing. Obviously.
2. Because this particular bill is good for religion and for government. If you read the text of the bill (linked above) it clearly states that this referendum only establishes civil gay marriage – clergy cannot be penalized for refusing to do religious gay marriages, and churches aren’t required to rent out their sanctuaries. Now, as it happens I actually think (Christian) churches should marry gay couples, but that’s a completely different issue than the one under debate here. This referendum does a very good job making clear that (in its own language) “that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith.”
Put another way: civil marriage is not religious marriage. The government has no business telling the church how to administer its sacrament, and vice versa. This is a lesson worth learning, and I think the text of the bill does a great job of making this point. This is a government function sharing the same name as a church function (necessary, since that’s the word used to describe governmental recognition of male/female couples). But this is what philosophers call homonymy: two distinct concepts using the same name. Churches and synagogues also marry people, but no one thinks a Christian marriage involves breaking a glass just because that’s part of the Jewish ritual.
3. Because of People like Joe. As an undergrad, my best friend was gay and he was bullied relentlessly by some people in the Baptist Student Association. I won’t go into the details because some stories aren’t mine to share. But I suspect most people know someone like Joe, hopefully with less drastic stories than his. Legalizing gay marriage won’t prevent all the harassment, of course, but it will make some people think of LGBT people as normal – the kind of folks who might get married, might even have kids (either their biological children from before they came out, or adopted children in many states). Bullies thrive on alienation, so the more LGBT people are seen as being like everyone else, the harder it is to put people through that.
Really, I can’t emphasize this point enough. Actual gay kids are growing up thinking there’s something about them they can’t change and that society just won’t recognize it. And aside from perception, actual gay adults don’t get survivorship benefits, the right to legally be your child’s guardian, hospital visitation rights, all kinds of things. I know gay graduate students who can’t work in most American states because they would not have the legal rights to keep their families together. When you don’t have these laws, you hurt real people.
As for the one reason I’m not a favor of this referendum? Simple. This isn’t the kind of thing that should be up for a majority vote. I’m being a bit facetious here, I know, but it really does bother me. I mean, the standard critique is that judges and not citizens have been the ones offering up marriage equality, but that’s just the way it should be. This isn’t something that needs to be bestowed on LGBT people; it’s much too fundamental for that.
In other news:
1. my new computer desktop (yayz for the polar bears)
2. a fascinating, and thought-provoking electoral map showing how misleading the red/blue divide can be at times