Despite the high concentrations of vitriol being spewed from all sides during this past election season, I was at least lucky enough to have developed a new hobby over the past two months or so to help keep my mind off the insanity. Well, I say new, but really the only new part is that now I feel legitimate about it – shamelessly browsing lacy dresses and DIY wedding sites.
You see, I recently got engaged.
As excited as I am still, now that the initial fever has died down, I am struck by how lucky I am to have a fiancé who is male and a family who loves and accepts him. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m not very conservative. My family, however, is. His family is even more so. We’ve joked that we’re lucky we’re both straight and white, but really, the struggles that so many couples have to go through just to be accepted together are no laughing matter.
It is therefore with great pride that I salute the citizens of Maine, Maryland and Washington state who made the right and respectful choice on Nov. 6 and voted yes on their states' referendums to allow same-sex marriage. They bring the total number of states that allow gay marriage up to nine - still a sad minority, but definitely a step in the right direction. I am encouraged by this progress and I eagerly anticipate the photos of happy newlyweds in front of Washington county courthouses that are sure to appear all over the web on Dec. 9 – the first day that one of those three states will allow same-sex couples to legally marry. Other than pictures of baby animals, there are few things I know of that can so move human hearts on the internet than photos of couples in love. I can only hope that those who voted no on the referendums will see the same joy and rightness in those sure-to-come shots that the rest of us do.
What I think many opponents of same-sex marriage fail to realize is that, just as in most American heterosexual marriages, the vows of marriage between two same-sex partners are not undertaken lightly. Gay couples do not want to get married just to prove a point or to anger the religious right; they want to get married because they just want to be able to spend their life with the person that they love. They just want to enjoy the same legal and social rights as any other married couple.
I have to pause and think about how my emotions, my reactions to my engagement would differ had one or both of our families disapproved. Had we been shunned, disowned, criticized. How devastatingly cruel it would have felt to receive rejection from those from whom we expected affection and love. A person would not put him or her self through that kind of treatment from family and friends on a whim. No one chooses to be rejected. No one chooses to be gay.
It boils down, I think, to an issue of respect. Families who reject their son, daughter, brother, sister, friend on the basis that he or she dares to love someone of the same sex is showing a disturbing lack of respect for that person as an individual, based, all too often, on preconceived black and white misconceptions stemming from a fundamentalist religious bias. Too often I have heard those around me say that they are opposed to gay marriage because the bible "speaks against it." The very same text also speaks against getting tattoos, shaving your head, rounding the edges of your beards or wearing clothing made from two different fibers. If you take a step back and really look at the issue, opposition to gay marriage based on ancient parchment scribblings becomes rather ridiculous.
After all, marriage is not a religious institution – it is a cultural one. The act of pairing off for mutual benefit and to ease child-rearing – whether in pairs, triplets, quintets or any other combination of adults – and the social contract inherent in these partnerships, existed long before human history was even recorded, much less made religious. And like it or not, the United States is a multicultural nation. The varieties of human experience and love, of American experience and love, cannot and should not be confined to the restrictions of one religion, one belief system or one culture. Our legislators on both the state and national level, as homogenous as they may too often be in gender, race and religion, nonetheless have no right to deny the social and legal benefits of marriage to an entire segment of the population.
According to a Gallup poll released in October, approximately 3.4 percent of adult Americans identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender). In the same study, only 1.3 percent of legally married adults identified as such. Using these numbers as a rough estimate, that means that up to a full two percent of American adults go to school, go to work, serve their country, pay taxes and yet 41 states still tell these citizens that they cannot visit their loved ones in the hospital, cannot receive recognition on their taxes, cannot receive death benefits, cannot legally undertake the ceremony that will let them bear the universal symbols of love and stability and fidelity and be proud to walk hand in hand down the street with their spouse, feeling the joy of those rings on their fingers.
I am lucky to be allowed to know that joy in the state of Georgia, and my heart cries out for those who are not. I am lucky to be young and in love and to have a partner who respects not only me, but our fellow American citizens and neighbors as well. I am lucky that I can walk hand in hand down the street with the person I love without facing the glares and taunts of prejudice and discrimination. I don’t intend to take this good fortune lightly. And I promise to keep fighting for my friends, my neighbors, my family until the right which humanity has already granted us - the right to love whomever we wish - is equally granted by every state government.
After all, everyone deserves to be able to stalk wedding sites and ooh and aah at pretty decor and dresses with anticipation and excitement, rather than despondency and despair. Life should be joyful, and its milestones should be able to be joyfully celebrated in all their varied and wonderful forms.
Christi McEntyre is a reporter with the Walker County Messenger. She can be reached at (706) 638-1859 or firstname.lastname@example.org.