First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.
– Martin Niemoller
Soon you will bear the responsibility of determining whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in New York. Very simply, I hope you will choose the correct path and abolish discrimination against a group of your fellow citizens.
Don’t fool yourself, Senators, it is discrimination. You can quibble about the definition, but when you give one person or group the right or privilege to do something, and then solely and purposely exclude another person or group from that right or privilege – that is discrimination.
When you allow a white man to sit at a lunch counter, but not a black man – that is discrimination. When you allow a man to vote, but not a woman – that is discrimination. And, when you allow a “straight” person the freedom to choose – within age and consensual limits – who they wish to marry, and deny equal freedom to a gay person – that is discrimination.
In the long history of the United States, we have fought for freedom – our own and that of others. But, we have also discriminated against many different peoples. Black people and women fought for decades to win equal rights. Jews, Slavs, the Irish, the Chinese, Cubans; as each new wave of immigrants has landed on our shores they have endured discrimination, and fought for acceptance – for equality.
Sadly, even in 2011, there are people who must fight to be treated equally. They are American citizens. They are teachers, doctors, firefighters, police officers – the list goes on and on. And, in a large percentage of the country, they are being denied a basic human right.
It is, and should be, a right to choose the person you wish to marry, whether that person is another man, another woman, a Jew or a Gentile; whether they are black, white, yellow, or red. Or, even if that person is a Red Sox fan!
For all the bluster and name-calling, when you get right down to it, the issue of same-sex marriage is a simple matter of civil rights – the basic right to be treated equally.
Of course, opponents disagree with this view, and they come to the debate with a slew of “talking points,” statistics, quotes from The Bible, and outright lies, which they use to stir up fear in others and convince them that it is OK to discriminate against those who are different.
Supporters of this discrimination claim that it is vital in order to protect the sanctity of marriage. This is absurd and insulting to the intelligence.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov), in 2008, there were 7.1 marriages and 3.5 divorces per 1,000 Americans. That means that the divorce rate in the United States is nearly half the rate of marriages. Almost 50 percent of these “straight” marriages end in divorce!
In another study, Pew Research Center found that the state of Maine – where discrimination toward same-sex couples was reestablished in 2009 via the passing of Referendum 1 – has the nation’s second highest percentage of divorced people; second only to Nevada. Pew found that, among Maine residents, 15 percent of women (compared to a national average of 12 percent), and 12 percent of men (compared to nine percent nationally) are divorced.
In addition – again, according to the CDC – the rate of divorce in Maine is half a percent higher than the national average (4.6 vs. 4.1 percent).
Another interesting fact uncovered by the CDC report: the rate of divorce in Massachusetts – the first state to allow same-sex marriage – is the lowest in the nation.
Perhaps we should look to Hollywood to find the sacred bond of marriage that opponents speak of. Let’s consider Anna Nicole Smith and the 89-year-old J. Howard Marshall II, whom she married on his death-bed (surely a marriage based on true love), or Elizabeth Taylor, or any of the countless Hollywood “couples” who have married and divorced with alarming regularity.
Or, maybe we could look to our political leaders as the shining examples of this marital sanctity. John McCain, Ted Kennedy, Rudolph Giuliani, Ronald Reagan…all divorced. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Separated, and – given the existence of a love child – one might presume he's on the way to being divorced. Of course, there are some politicians whose marriages have survived; Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Eliot Spitzer spring to mind.
It seems to me that if we truly wanted to preserve marriage we should campaign to outlaw divorce and stiffen the penalty for adultery, not fight to deny marriage.
Opponents argue that the “right” to get married is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States – for gay people or straight people. “Therefore,” they claim, “to deny two people of the same sex something like that is not an infringement of such.”
As for the first part, I agree wholeheartedly. Obviously, marriage is not mentioned in the Constitution. Nor should it be. Two consenting adults should not require the sanction of the state in order to get married. I would, however, ask you to look at another document – one just as important to our nation – and read these simple words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” All men. Not all “straight” men. All men!
In response to the second part of the argument, I ask two questions: If the right/privilege/ability of a same-sex couple is not being infringed, what are we arguing about? If no infringement is present then, logically, a same-sex couple should simply be able to walk down to the local courthouse in any city, in any state of the Union, and get a marriage license…just like any “straight” couple, correct?
Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, in a majority of the country, a same-sex couple can not receive a marriage license. How is that equality?
Perhaps the most frequent tactic used is quoting of the Scriptures. Opponents of same-sex marriage love to point out The Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. And, to be honest, it’s my favorite tactic to observe.
“Why,” you ask? I like it because when you challenge “God’s Word,” they get indignant, or feign being insulted, and then usually say something like, “Well, if you’re going to turn this into an attack on Christianity, I’m not even going to debate you.”
This is, of course, simply not true. In actuality, the only thing under attack is the use of their beliefs to limit or deny the rights of people who do not share those particular beliefs.
You see, the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution is fine with many of them, as long as it means they can worship as they please. But, when you point out that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion – freedom from having the beliefs of others thrust upon you, or their beliefs being used to deny equality – then watch out.
Unfortunately, despite all this professed belief in the Scriptures, words like compassion, charity, and love seem to have been lost in the mire. And, many people seem to have forgotten “The Golden Rule” that Jesus himself gave us in the Book of Luke: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“The Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination,” they’ll say. Indeed, it does…in some interpretations. But, in addition to telling us what is not permissible, The Bible tells us what is. According to The Bible, slavery, beating your wife, and even human sacrifice are allowed, and in some cases, demanded. Luckily, we as human beings have evolved to a point where those practices are no longer considered acceptable or legal.
The truth is, The Bible is full of allegorical stories that can be interpreted in a number of ways. It was written by men – fallible, imperfect human beings, each with his own agenda and his own prejudices. In addition, it has been passed down through generation after generation, translated, re-interpreted, changed (can anyone say Council of Nicea?), and changed again. No one can truly say that The Bible we read today bears any resemblance to what was originally written.
Of course, if you still believe that The Bible, literally translated, is the final word on the matter, I’ll just ask this: If The Bible tells us that God made man in his own image, wouldn’t that include gay human beings too? And, if that’s so, who are we mere humans to question God’s design?
I don’t understand where this fear of same-sex marriage – of gay people in general – came from. When I joined the United States Army in 1990, I was asked – twice – if I was, or ever had been, a member of the Communist party or of any organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. I was asked if I was, or ever had been, gay, six times. Six times!
Are gay people three times more likely to devote themselves to the destruction of freedom? Are gay people three times more likely to be bent on bringing about the violent overthrow of the government of the United States? To think this, even for a moment, is ridiculous to the point of absurdity.
I know several same-sex couples. These are not men who haunt dark parking lots outside of adult bookstores. They are committed, hardworking Americans trying to make a living. And, they are as devoted to each other as any “straight” couple I’ve seen.
During my time on this planet, I’ve learned that on most issues there are many points of view. Often, there is more than one “right” answer – more than one way to believe; “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” as William Shakespeare tells us.
In this case, however, the simple fact is this: same-sex marriage should not be a political issue. It is a human issue about justice, equality, and ending discrimination against a group of American citizens.
Too often, this argument revolves around hate and fear, when it should revolve around love. We spend – if we’re lucky – 70 or 80 years on this little ball of dust before we “shuffle off this mortal coil,” so why not try to be happy – and allow others to be happy – while we’re here?
I ask opponents of same-sex marriage to consider a few more simple questions: Does denying the happiness of others make you any happier? How does the marriage of two other people – no matter their genders – affect your marriage? Does defeating same-sex marriage make your own marriage – or any other marriage – stronger?
No one is telling you that you have to be gay. Nor is anyone saying that you have to like gay people or their lifestyle. But, that doesn’t make gay people any less human than you are. It doesn’t make them any less an American citizen than you are. And it certainly doesn’t give you the right to discriminate against them. They are not asking for special treatment or privileges, only for equality. They want – and deserve – the same treatment and respect that every other American citizen receives, no more, no less.
This issue is not important only for gay Americans; it is important for all Americans – gay, straight, black, white, Democrat, Republican, believer, atheist, and everyone in between. You must realize that once you deny equality to one person, or one group of people – once you see them or treat them as something less than you are – you make it that much easier to see everyone as something less than you are. And, eventually, someone will do the same to you. Someday they will come for your rights as well…and there will be no one left to speak out for you.
Americans, New Yorkers, Senators; I sincerely hope you will each find the courage to help end discrimination against your fellow citizens by voting to allow same-sex marriage in New York.
Pomona, New York
1 June 2011