Humans are born with a susceptibility to that most persistent and debilitating disease of intellect: self-deception. The best of all possible worlds and the worst get their dramatic coloration from it. As nearly as we can determine, there is no natural immunity. Constant alertness is required.
On December 5th, 2012, the Supreme Court in Mexico unanimously overturned a state law banning gay marriage. The Supreme Court still needs to rule on two more cases from that state (Oaxaca), and five more cases for each of the other 30 Mexican states. It’s a small but significant victory for possibly making gay marriage legal nationwide.
It’s unfortunate that Mexico could make this decision before the U.S. Supreme Court even decided to hear the cases for gay marriage. America could and should be more of a leader on this issue. Unfortunately, we are behind several other countries. Will Mexico be added to the map below? It would make us the only country in North America that doesn’t extend the same rights to LGBT people.
America has made progress on this issue, however. As of January 2013, gay marriage will be legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. Furthermore, according to a recent Gallup poll, 53% of Americans support marriage equality. This is all positive and worth celebrating, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. Especially considering the fact that House GOP members, who supposedly champion fiscal conservatism, authorized using taxpayers’ dollars to increase funding to the legal defense of DOMA from $1.5 million to $2 million.
It reminds me of how I felt when I began watching Mad Men. In addition to the exceptional writing, acting, cast choice, and plot lines, the show is a well-researched historical piece. It portrays the 1960’s with a lot of accuracy, whether it’s flattering or not. It is both amusing and frightening to see people compulsively lighting up, even while they are pregnant. Drinking while driving or being pregnant also wasn’t a big deal. And while none of the main characters are explicitly racist, the show illustrates racial segregation honestly and doesn’t go out of its way to have a “token” black character.
For me, it elicits feelings of embarrassment. It’s embarrassing that we have such blatant racism in our history. If we go further back in history, it’s even more shameful that slavery was a normal part of our culture, especially considering the founding principles of America. It’s easy to judge the past in hindsight, but this doesn’t diminish the gravity of our mistakes.
In 50 years, will there be a TV show set in our time? I wonder how our predecessors will look back on this time in a few generations. What stupidities will they laugh at? What will be embarrassing? Will they look back at our discrimination against same-sex marriage the way we look at our brand of racism in the 1960’s? Will they equate gay marriage with interracial marriage? I know that the Supreme Court Justices have a lot to realistically consider with our complex legal system, but they need to be asking themselves these important questions about our future.
In the poll cited above, 47% of those who oppose same-sex marriage cited religious and/or Biblical reasons, and 20% said they believe marriage should be limited to a man and woman. It is difficult to understand the logic of people trying to prevent two consenting adults from making a loving, lifetime commitment to each other legal. Marriage is a stabilizing force and the beginning of a family–a unit valued by the religious and the right.
Aside from the fact that it contradicts Jesus’s message of love, community, and advocating for the underdogs of society, the arguments against gay marriage contain many logical flaws. Comparing gay marriage to and/or arguing it could lead to polygamy, bestiality, and pedophilia are examples of the logical fallacies known as slippery slope and false analogy. Relying on an ancient, out-of-context, figurative, and self-contradicting scripture is an inaccurate attempt of appealing to authority and appealing to nature.
This widespread irrationality seems symptomatic of our collective attachment to an ideal promoted by organizations like The American Family Association, The Coalition for Marriage and Family, The Traditional Values Coalition. There is this tacit and explicit idea of a past “Golden Age” where Traditional Family Values were the norm. People had no problem with saving sex for marriage, happily practicing lifelong monogamy, and being heterosexual. Husbands made enough money so their wives could stay at home, cook, and raise their children. We were wholesome, church-going, and happy.
This 1940’s-1960’s standard echoes a soothing visual of Leave it to Beaver and Norman Rockwell paintings, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth. There were gay people; they were just mostly closeted. Given the stigma against divorce and limited jobs available to women, divorce was rare. Premarital sex and infidelity were not, however.
We could go back even further to witness the symbolism of a faraway Golden Age. We could be kicking it in the paradise of the Garden of Eden. If only Eve hadn’t listened to the snake and eaten that apple. The first humans were punished for being themselves: curious. They wanted to learn and were consequently kicked out of Eden.
Similarly, we expect homosexuals to deviate from their identities by staying in the closet or pretending to be straight. If they do defy the heterosexual ideal by coming out of the closet and asking for equal treatment, then we punish them by limiting their fundamental rights. In this case, staying in Eden, a religious ideal, is staying in the closet.
There simply never was an Eden; the idea of it is a lie. This lie is destructive because it forces people to be dishonest. It’s this pretending to be something that we’re not that fosters unhappiness and conflict. Aspiring to being a better human being (hard-working, kind, fair, honest) is different from denying the facts of who we are. The facts say that between 3% and 4% of Americans are LGBT.
The facts also say societal prejudice against LGBT youth harms their mental health. The American Psychological Association also released a report finding that Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (or Gay Conversion Therapies) were ineffective and harmful. Some subjects experienced an increase in depression, alcoholism, and suicidal thoughts. Our obsession with how we think we should be is counterproductive. It’s more constructive to allow LGBT individuals be out of the closet and treated equally. The success of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’s repeal illustrates this.
Dwelling on a fictitious past that we must “go back to” is a way to deflect the reality of the present. Trusting a religious text ensures we don’t have to question norms or be challenged. Convincing ourselves that we already have the answers to life’s complexities prevents us from learning. It’s a sad state for a species capable of unparalleled intelligence and growth.
It’s very easy to complain about the present and not appreciate what we have. In truth, every era in human history had its moral successes and pitfalls. Old isn’t inherently gold, and deceiving ourselves into believing this removes us from the present. And now is the only time in which we can act to create a more peaceful, accepting society that we can feel some pride in passing on to future generations.