Recently, I had to have “the” talk with my four year old son. You know, the one where a parent has to explain that things or people who seem different from us on the surface are not really that different at all. My son had over heard someone saying that they had two moms. And his immediate response was “two moms? how weird!?!” Needless to say, we are working on removing the term “weird” from his vocabulary. But, his knee-jerk reaction really made me reflect on some of the reactions I have had to gay marriage and marriage rights in my lifetime. I started off totally ignorant, knowing very little about the subtle differences between civil unions and plain ol’ marriage. I had no clue of the difficulty LGBT folks had when seeking joint adoptions, burial rights, and a host of other things I take for granted in my heterosexual relationship. But, as I have gotten older and started a family of my own, I see things a bit differently now. And, it makes me wonder, what does “defense of marriage” really even mean? When President Clinton passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, what exactly was he seeking to defend?
DOMA is an interesting piece of legislation. It basically says that heterosexual marriage is the only legally recognizable “type” of marriage. And, even if individual states work to validate same-sex marriage within their own constitutions, DOMA directly undermines those efforts. So, what do heterosexual folks have to gain from denying equal rights to their same-sex peers? Well, nothing really. It doesn’t make my marriage any stronger knowing that someone can’t be with their husband or wife who is in a hospital room. It also doesn’t help me in anyway knowing that children in need of loving parents may not get adopted because of our aversion to homosexual relationships in this country. In essence, I get nothing except some false sense of superiority over people who’d like the chance to publicly profess their love for someone who feels the same way for them.
Instead, DOMA teaches LGBT husbands, wives, and family members that these relationships are shameful or less than. They are socialized to hate themselves and hide from the judgmental eyes of the larger public. Why? Well, because we hate them. We hate that they won’t simply behave like us, look like us, and be straight like us. We hate that they are different. We hate that they are “weird.” To placate same-sex couples, some states have offered civil unions. And, although California’s civil union laws are pretty similar to heterosexual marriage laws, many states still deny same-sex couples transfer of estate provisions in case a spouse passes away, personal possession benefits in the case of divorce, or even have mechanisms in place to guarantee that same-sex couples will get equal treatment to heterosexual couples when it comes to child-rearing. In many states, unwed heterosexual couples have more defined rights than wedded same-sex couples. So, who is really in need of defense here?
Everyday, when I walk outside with my perfect little brown family in our quaint suburban OC neighborhood with our two cars and “normal” lifestyle, I am keenly aware of how safe my relationship is. I have no concerns that people will look at me funny if I hold hands with my husband in public. And, when I stroll through the neighborhood grocery store, I am almost always greeted with a friendly “hi there, your family is so beautiful…” So, what exactly do I need to be defended from? To tell the truth, my brown hue is probably in more need of defense than my “normal” marriage.
In such clear terms, I was able to explain to my son that people are simply different, unique, or interesting. And, in explaining this to him, I realized that this country seems to struggle most with simply articulating these logically sound concepts in our federal and local policy. We teach our children that bullying is wrong all the while we socialize the subjugation of certain groups like women, minorities, the elderly, and LGBT citizens. We are shocked when children do harmful, tragic, or violent things to one another yet we normalize it for those groups we find to be “weird” and abnormal. Just a few years ago, interracial marriage was illegal in this country. It wasn’t until 1967 with the decision of Loving vs. Virginia that this archaic system of discrimination was finally overturned by the US Supreme Court. It suffices to say that interracial marriage was pretty “weird” back then. And, just like same-sex marriage today, a majority of Americans hated interracial couples too.
So, I ask the simple question, what are we defending: marriage or hate?