Went to a great dinner party last night to celebrate the recent passage of the same-sex marriage bill in Maryland. It was both a lively and a somber atmosphere – the issue is almost definitely going to the ballot in November, and for all the celebration last night, I don’t think anybody was fooled that there isn’t quite a battle ahead of us. Maryland demographics are interesting – it’s a pretty Democratic state, on the whole, but there are many powerful and influential political groups who have historically opposed gay marriage despite otherwise trending Democratic (such as Maryland’s large African-American and Catholic communities).
As was discussed last night, and in the great essay in the Baltimore City Paper It’s Not Over, I think there are really two key considerations in making Maryland the first state where gay marriage survives on the ballot: families, and straight people. I know, peripherally, some of the gay parents and children of gay parents who were testifying before the Maryland Senate and House in recent weeks and months, and they’ve also been involved in various test cases floated before the Maryland courts. In the many articles I’ve read about gay marriage in Maryland, it seems that families like theirs were crucial in swaying votes, both as illustration that families with same-sex parents are basically the same as other families, and as examples of how marriage is still an important support system within a greater societal structure. Now I’m not the world’s biggest marriage cheerleader, so if you don’t want to get married, for any reason (or just because), good on you. But to say that people who want to get married can’t, strikes me as anti-social, anti-family, and ultimately self-defeating. If you spend all your time defining and categorizing and limiting the boundaries of what “counts” as a “real” marriage, frankly, people aren’t going to be so keen to jump on that bandwagon. And since, my personal feelings about marriage aside, it still does convey some very real financial, legal, and social protections to families, I think you end up undermining your whole purpose. I think politicians who are really, truly interested in promoting greater social good are more likely to vote and act in favor of marriage equality if they’re put in a position to realize what they’re denying families by voting/acting against marriage equality.
On top of which, as T pointed out last night, there’s something unfair about taking these sorts of civil rights issues to a vote, in that the LGBT population is a minority population. And this is why creating partnerships with non-gay allies is a really critical part of this fight. I think there are a lot of straight folks who are for marriage equality (or don’t care, because they realize it doesn’t affect them whatsoever), but who maybe aren’t motivated to do anything about it. But if they knew that their cousin/coworker/neighbor/friend is a member of the LGBT community, and that this issue matters to that person, they might step up. I think this is a time to be out, if you’re in Maryland and in a position where it’s safe to do so. Even if you are not looking to get married yourself, there are a lot of other people who are, and I think they’d appreciate the community support.
To be clear, I’m not really advocating for marriage, which I find a pretty problematic institution on many levels. But I am advocating for equal rights and equal treatment under the law. Whether or not I choose to get married is my business, and I deserve to be able to make that choice for myself, based on what’s best for me. (Well, there are probably other interested parties in this discussion, but we’ll leave my parents and boyfriend out of it for the moment.) And while I do think that marriage equality is a gay rights issue, it’s not the sum total of gay rights. Gay marriage in Maryland doesn’t suddenly mean gay people are going to be treated the same as other people. There are still issues of discrimination in employment and housing and many other areas, hate crimes and bullying, high rates of homelessness and depression among queer youth, homophobic attitudes and beliefs, etc. etc. etc. Gay marriage is just one step down a long path to equality, but it’s an important step, and I think it creates an important precedent that the LGBT community deserves equal treatment under the law.