The battle over same-sex marriage is about the rights that go with the word, and here’s hoping that love can overcome the prejudice that keeps those rights from us
While the Senate debates whether we are full citizens when it comes to serving in the military, the debate over LGBT people’s rights rages on the marriage front, too.
I continue to wonder why this issue is so much trouble for heterosexuals.
It seems that some opposite-sex couples feel the intrinsic value of their marriage status will somehow be denigrated by granting those same rights to same sex couples. After spending dinner last night discussing a very ugly divorce with a straight friend, I once again question how the institution of marriage could be more denigrated than it already is by heterosexuals?
He told me a story of how his wife had taken their children, the product of their "love for one another," and used them as a bludgeon against him to get settlement terms that suited her. If this is the sacred institution we are disrupting by seeking equal rights, then perhaps we should let the straight folks have it.
Divorce in this country is every bit as much an institution as marriage, and the passion that brings people together for the wedding seems to be equally as strong in tearing them apart. The law of physics — that every action has an equal and opposite reaction — is borne out in about 50 percent of heterosexual marriages.
So while we fight for the right to marry, we are also fighting for the right to divorce as well.
So think about this for a moment: The legal advantages of the contract we call a marriage are certainly something every citizen has a right to, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. Otherwise we are living in a two-tiered society with full citizenship for some and second-class citizenship for others.
However, the heteronormative model of marriage might not be what we seek in our relationships.
Personally, I am very happy with my partner of 15 years and don’t feel we need a marriage to make our union official. We are the ones who make that union work, and whether it is state sanctioned or not doesn’t really matter — except in the legal rights we do not have.
For that the laws need to change and soon.
Meanwhile in other countries, the matter is less of an issue. Many places in the world have given equal rights to all their citizens — including the right to marry or unite or whatever you want to call it. A handful of U.S. states offer either marriage or civil unions that grant the same rights to same-sex couples.
The exception to this trend is the Middle East and Africa. In South Africa, same-sex marriage is the law, but in most of the rest of the continent not only is it not legal, just being LGBT is illegal — illegal to the point of carrying a death penalty in some countries.
It’s pretty scary stuff, yet not scary enough to prevent love from pulling two people together. Love? Yes, that is the missing element and something the law has difficulty dealing with.
Love may just be stronger than laws. Love may be stronger than the bigotry and hatred that perpetuates those laws. And that gives me hope.
My case in point is a couple of men living in Malawi. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza fell in love. Like many reckless young lovers, they made plans to wed and announced to their friends and family their engagement.
In some places that would be considered sweet and charming. But in the tiny, land-locked African nation of Malawi, that is considered illegal, a crime against nature.
The joy of their announcement was cut short by their arrest and imprisonment and trial. They were sentenced to 14 years of hard labor in prison, and the men were moved to separate prisons 50 miles apart as a security measure.
Apparently love is far too powerful to let them even be in the same city!
Their conviction brought international outrage and a lot of diplomatic condemnation. Human rights groups put a lot of pressure on — and for a change, that pressure seems to have worked.
Last week in a somewhat confusing statement, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika announced he was pardoning them on "humanitarian grounds only," following up with a reassertion of the law prohibiting homosexual conduct.
No matter, they were released and spirited off by human rights groups for their own protection.
We can take solace in the idea that our country is not as "primitive" as Malawi, that our laws are more "civilized." But the fact remains that we still treat LGBT people as less than full citizens.
Until our country steps into the 21st Century with regard to human rights for our citizens, it is disingenuous to look down our noses at anyplace else just because we aren’t "that bad." For that to happen it will take the same kind of pressure put on the president of Malawi right here in our country.
So maybe, just maybe, next year those same-sex American couples that choose to, can exercise their rights to become June grooms or brides. Maybe someday Steven and Tiwonge can do the same.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 04, 2010.