What’s Left – The Legalization of Hate

Over the last few weeks I have been challenged in my humanity to understand the words of hate inscribed into the constitutions of California, Florida and Arizona on Election Day 2008. I believe that the election of the country’s first black president is a triumph for all those who value equality. Nonetheless, to date, voters in close to 40 states have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage and deny all people the right to equality. If people are so willing to degrade their fellow man, and treat members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual (LGBT) community like second-class citizens, then the dream of equality is nothing but a distant vision.

Factions opposed to same-sex marriage have successfully confused themselves in believing that the definition of marriage held by church and state is synonymous. However, movements to legally redefine marriage in terms of gender — i.e. the union between only a man and a woman — nullify this claim. Before a meaningful debate on the topic might commence, we must recognize that the goal of legalizing same-sex marriage is not to redefine the institution of marriage within the Church. Instead, the focus is on the idea of marriage in the eyes of the law.

Turning to history, we should consider the precedent of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia. The unanimous opinion handed down by the court permanently redefined the institution of marriage, making it legal for people to marry regardless of their race in all 50 states. The court’s decision in Loving vs. Virginia had no implication for the Church’s definition of marriage; instead it provided equal access to all the rights conferred by marriage to people regardless of their race.

The legalization of same-sex marriage would serve an identical purpose, the provision of equal rights to all people regardless of their sexual orientation. The very idea that legalizing same-sex marriage would unequivocally force the Church, as an institution, to support same-sex marriage is false; such an implication presupposes the fact that our legal system is centered on a separation of church and state.

Have we now come to a point in time where we are willingly legislating a society that sanctions hate and inequality? For decades, the existence of discriminatory laws was used as a means to justify racism. Prejudicial laws that degrade the LGBT community and address them as second-class citizens provide the same justification for hate. Support for same-sex marriage aside, there is no place in American society for institutionalized hate that encourages a divided nation.

The United States Constitution has been amended only 17 times since the addition of the Bill of Rights in 1791. Barring prohibition — which was later repealed — the Constitution has never once been amended to restrict the rights of the American people. Instead, each new amendment has endeavored to protect certain rights unforeseen by our Founding Fathers. Same-sex couples are not interested in deconstructing the institution of marriage but instead are anxious to access the same rights as opposite-sex couples (and are not granted by civil unions). From the right to visit their spouse in the hospital to health insurance coverage, family leave, immigration rights and retirement benefits, same-sex couples are not focused on a radical agenda. Alternatively, they rightfully understand marriage to be the only way they can be recognized as equal citizens.

In the second stanza of the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have relied upon the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to provide equal access to marriage, voting and school enrollment, not to mention ending slavery and institutionalized sexism. To date, the LGBT community is still waiting to benefit from these alleged “self-evident” truths. Although the Declaration of Independence suggests otherwise, voters in 40 states seem to believe that these rights are not inalienable and have unremorsefully taken them away.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to wrap my head around the passion, money and anger exerted by opponents to same-sex marriage. The Mormon Church and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family called upon their parishioners to raise millions of dollars this election cycle to prevent thousands of people they will probably never meet from getting married. In fact, more money was spent on the passage of Proposition 8 in California than on any other race this election cycle (barring the Presidency). Can you imagine the outcry that would undoubtedly ensue if a proposition was proposed anywhere in America to remove the rights of another minority group? While we still have a long way to go before we can end all forms of societal prejudice, the LGBT community still faces legal prejudice under our laws.

As I considered what I might discuss in my column this week, I found it impossible to divorce my ideas from the emotion and sentiment felt on campus in light of recent events. Same-sex marriage should not be construed as a battle between liberals and conservatives; on the contrary, it is about the support for magnanimity and the undeniable belief in equality. Injustice is the brainchild of silence — standing complacent while the rights of one community are denied is a threat to the civil rights of all people.