There are a lot of rainbow flags flying for Pride Month in my neighborhood, and all around the city where I live, and beyond. I don’t have any pictures, mainly because I don’t like taking pictures of strangers’ yards without their permission—I leave that to Google Maps, but that’s another story. It got me thinking about how ironic it is that these personal celebrations of LGBT awareness and acceptance are so widespread even as current circumstances have forced most big Pride events to either scale back or go completely online. This is also a difficult moment not just for the LGBT community, which is facing serious rollbacks of rights, but other minority communities. And these concerns often overlap. As many have noted the 1968 Stonewall Riots, a marker of the modern LGBT rights movement, was started by transgender women of color who were fed up with police brutality. Nearly five decades later Andrea Jenkins would become the first Black transgender woman elected to public office, and she’s speaking out now about George Floyd, whose death happened in Minneapolis where she serves.This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride Parade. At the same time, though, it reflects how the LGBT community has become part of the larger community. Yes, LGBT people have always been part of the larger community—they’re neighbors, friends, family.
It’s only been very recently that there’s been real widespread acceptance. While I’ve seen local Pride events grow from small gatherings that were mostly met with protest to a big three day downtown party it’s only been in the past few years that rainbow flags in yards have become, well, almost ordinary.
It’s only been five years since the Supreme Court’s decision finally made same-sex couples equal. It’s a decision that seems a lot less controversial now than it did then, although even at the time it seemed like the controversy was fading. Still I remember how many arguments I had with people who were opposed to marriage equality. Just five years ago there were five basic arguments, some of them made by the same people as they shifted their reasoning in a desperate attempt to justify their opposition. Those arguments were:
“It’s a slippery slope.” Sure. I think the past five years have shown this one was never true. It was never an argument that made sense to me anyway. Every new law or change to an existing law is a potential slippery slope to, well, something else, with consequences that may or may not be intended. Most of the time when people made this argument they said it would lead to polygamy. It hasn’t, and it didn’t follow that it would. All that really changed is the law recognized a subset of couples who’d previously been denied the legal protections of marriage—protections like the ability to visit each other in the hospital, own property jointly, and parent children. Some of those protections were already available, but the law makes it easier for married couples to obtain them. And the emphasis here is on couples. Allowing polygamy would mean a major restructuring of the legal definition of marriage.
Some brought up the idea of bestiality or people possibly marrying an inanimate object, but until your goldfish or your floor lamp can sign a contract or make medical decisions that just wasn’t an argument.
“It’s redefining marriage.” This argument never made sense to me either. The meanings and rituals and rights and responsibilities of marriage have varied through time and from one culture to another. Depending on the time and place women were considered property of their husbands. It wasn’t until 1993 that all fifty states finally did away with the “marital rape exception” that prevented women from charging their husbands. There’s also historical evidence that there are early cultures that recognized same sex marriage. It’s not a new idea, but the wheels of the justice system turn slowly. Until 2003, again thanks to the Supreme Court, there were still parts of the United States where homosexuality was a crime. The first state to recognize same sex marriage was Massachusetts, in 2004. It took eleven years for the issue to reach the Supreme Court. Here’s an interesting side note, though: the term “Boston marriage” was used in the 19th and early 20th century to mean two women who lived together without depending on any men.
“It’s against my religion.” The marital rights and responsibilities that same sex couples were asking for in what ultimately became the case of Obergefell v. Hodges before the Supreme Court were those granted by the U.S. government, not any church or other group. It was and still is a legal distinction, not a religious one. No church has ever had to change because the government extended purely secular rights to same sex couples, and anyone is still free to believe same sex marriage is wrong if they want. Besides some churches were already recognizing same sex marriages before the Supreme Court’s decision. Some claimed they would prefer a different “civil union” for same sex couples, but “marriage” is a legal term used by the government and creating a group that was separate, and probably not equal, was unnecessary. What it comes down to, though, is that if you don’t believe in same sex marriage then don’t marry someone of the same sex.
“Children need a mother and a father.” Biologically children need heterozygous parents, but same-sex couples have been legally adopting children since 1985 and the kids are all right. There’s never been any evidence that children do worse when raised by same sex parents. And generally speaking families come in all forms, and there’s no evidence that one type of family is inherently superior to another.
Also you don’t have to have children to be married. You don’t have to be married to have children either—as a friend of mine used to say “Drive carefully. Most people are caused by accidents.” But for those same sex couples who did adopt being allowed to marry gave their families a degree of stability they hadn’t had before.
“It should be put to a vote.” And in fact several states did vote on same sex marriage, but if one group of marriages could be voted on why couldn’t all marriages? Or for that matter all rights. Hey, there’s your slippery slope! Marriage, as far as it’s defined by U.S. law, is a contract between two people, and contracts don’t usually get voted on by the people. And here’s something to consider: the Supreme Court put an end to laws preventing interracial couples in their 1968 decision Loving v. Virginia, but a majority of Americans wouldn’t accept interracial marriage until some time between 1995 and 1998. Still the idea of putting marital rights to a vote was persistent. George W. Bush supported an amendment to the Constitution to ban same sex marriage, which would have led to a nationwide vote if it had gone anywhere. It didn’t mainly because it couldn’t get enough traction; even Dick Cheney opposed it.
It may seem strange that I, a cis guy happily married to a woman–today happens to be our anniversary!–spent a lot of time going over these arguments, defending same sex marriage and LGBT rights generally. Well, I never went to court—I never did any of the real work that LGBT activists put into winning their rights, although I argued, and continue to argue for LGBT rights. There have been a lot of gains, although there have also been some major setbacks, and I even think there may be serious attempts to overturn the same sex marriage decision, although it will be hard to take the status away from currently married couples, which is what led to the unraveling of California’s Prop 8.
Anyway, why should someone like me argue for the rights of LGBT people? To repeat what I said earlier, they’re neighbors, friends, family. We’re all part of one community.