I've been looking over our online chat transcript from last night to see if I was overreacting when I decided to abruptly end our conversation. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I acted rationally and, in addition, I am deeply disappointed in you.
First of all, just seconds after I brought up the issue of Proposition 8 (the California measure that aims to ban same-sex marriage), you responded with "blah blah blah." The swiftness of your response indicated that you didn't even bother to read what I had written and that the mere fact that I am against Prop 8 meant that I should be lumped together with militant liberal activists who want to shove their ideas down people's throats without respectfully listening to opposing viewpoints. I'm the most evenhanded person you know, so for you to then tell me to "calm down" suggests, again, that you actively chose to not listen to me and to pretend to know my true stance on the subject, based your experience with other people. Perhaps, as a friend, you would be willing to take a moment to listen to what I have to say here in this public forum?
Let's establish something right at the outset. About the fundamental idea of marriage itself, straight or gay, I don't give a shit. As I've said previously, I've always been weary of same-sex marriage being the cause célèbre of the gay community. But the issue of marriage equality is something I have to support because gay marriage is not about marriage.
Arguments against same-sex marriage, at their core, have never been about the institution itself. They're fundamentally about homosexuality. So if you look underneath the shiny surface, "preserving the sanctity of marriage" is not the real issue—the aim is to attack sexual orientation, to disapprove of sexual identity, and to legalize discrimination, which is far more insidious and which will set this country back decades.
I know that you're not the only gay person who is "over" this fight for same-sex marriage. Perhaps that's why the Mormons and their cohorts have been able to out-fundraise us, with families going as far as withdrawing $50,000 from their life savings to make sure Proposition 8 passes and gays are denied the right to marry.
Perhaps gay people are apathetic because we're not hammering home the point that this is an important civil rights issue and, for the hundredth time, not about marriage. Look, it honestly doesn't bother me that you don't care about marriage rights, but, as a gay man who knows what it's like to be teased, shunned, and discriminated against firsthand, it is your responsibility to care about civil rights.
There are people out there who want to change the law to designate an entire class of people as unequal to, as less than, every other class of people. If we lose this battle, I don't care that we're losing marriage; I care that you and I will, in the eyes of the law, be inferior to everyone else. And when our opponents see that our inferiority is validated by the government, it will allow them to continue on their path of dehumanizing us. That's what denying a class of people an equal right does. It dehumanizes them. And it is the dehumanization of a group that creates a culture in which people feel that it is okay to yell "fag" at me when I'm walking down the street; that it is okay for kids to be bullied and beaten at school; that it is okay for a jeering mob to incite a gay 17-year-old to commit suicide by jumping off a building. These things happen because gays are demonized. And gays are demonized when they're made out to be an inferior class of people. And they are made out to be an inferior class of people when they are not allowed the same rights as everyone else.
During our chat, you said you didn't see what the big deal is, that civil unions and domestic partnerships are fine since they would give gays and lesbians marriage rights without using the term "marriage." On this point, you are misinformed. Please be very clear that it is not a matter of semantics; we are not stupidly quibbling over terminology. If you really want to look at it from a legal standpoint, in the few states in which civil unions or similar domestic partnerships exist, same-sex couples are granted the same rights as married couples but only on the state level. There are hundreds upon hundreds of federal benefits that do not apply to those couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships.
You also suggested that we should ride it out and let gay marriage happen when it happens. Funny thing is, history does not write itself. And if not now, then when?
Small acts were what drove the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955; black students faced protesters when trying to attend a white school in 1957; people marched for voting rights in 1965. These small acts defied odds; these small acts helped to change the United States of America.
The rights, benefits, and acceptance that you are allowed and that you enjoy and that you take for granted as a gay man are the result of history—history created by regular people, just like you and me, who weren't activists or politicians or crusaders. They were people who came out of the closet decades before us in a time when it was social suicide to do so; they were high school students who met opposition when they tried to start gay-straight alliances to foster tolerance at their schools; and they are the millions of people, gay and straight, who will vote no on Proposition 8 on November 4, 2008. The latter act is indeed a modest act, but one that will have far-reaching ramifications. One vote may be a footnote in our lives, but that footnote will explain how we stood up for what is fair, what is just, and what is humane. The story of our lives reveal the scope of our history; the footnotes give us depth.
[Read the follow-up to this post: "Sweet. Bitter." This was written after the unfortunate passage of Proposition 8.]