Friday, May 11, 2012

Thoughts on Gay Rights in the US

For my third installment, let's explore my own idea of what "Gay Rights" means and why this is such an issue in our country. Many other nations have either banned or certified rights for same-sex couples across their country. So why does ours seem to have such an issue with putting into law what we think is right?

The debate surrounding this topic includes several avenues. These, typically, are: Religious Values(tm), Tradition, Family Values(tm), and Civil Liberties.

First off, we'll talk about the Religious Values(tm) that are often cited as the reason we should ban gay marriage. Marriage, as an institution, has its roots in religious ceremonies. The union of two people together, for better or for worse, that gave them exclusive rights to the other. This was (in my limited research) enforced as a social contract, initially. It was something that you were expected to do before you raised a family. And, often, people as young as 12 or 13 would be married so they could *ahem* get to it. These are good reasons for marriage to continue to be socially accepted. A cohesive family will, generally, raise better adjusted children. However, as the years have progressed, governments have started to include tax and other legal benefits for couples who are married. These benefits can include next of kin, tax breaks, shared accounts and other things that provide a tangible benefit for being married beyond the benefits of having multiple people sharing a single home. As such, I believe that you can practice your own form of religious ceremony when you get married. But please, let there be a legal version for people who don't believe the same exact things you do.

Next, we'll get into the "Tradition of Marriage". This argument is basically an argument for "We've always done it this way, why change?" And, honestly, reasons have been presented for it to change. Reasons of fairness, of progress. Of civil liberty (to be discussed later). There are some things that we probably shouldn't change, because they have been tested and adjusted and shifted over the years into something that works really well. This is not one of those things. The tradition of marriage has been largely unchanged for centuries. The only things that have been adjusted are age limits on how young one can go through the ceremony and have it be legally binding. You no longer see children who have barely hit puberty being married off by their parents. That part of the "tradition" has been looked at and revised over the years. This is our time to look at and decide if other aspects of this tradition may need to be modified to fit into our modern world.

Family Values is something often cited as a reason to not change the legal definition of marriage. Or, worse, to "defend marriage". And what do they come out with? That same-sex couples won't give marriage the respect it deserves? Have they seen the divorce rate in this country? Same-sex marriage isn't legal in the majority of states. And we still have 50+ percent divorce rates among married individuals. It is becoming more and more difficult to find someone who hasn't already tied the knot when one goes out and talks to single men and women. How does this support an argument against same-sex marriage? They can't do any worse on that count. And, honestly, "til death do you part" is one of the bigger parts of the traditional vows, in my opinion. The other values often given voice are: "A family needs to be a man and a woman. Otherwise they'll grow up thinking being gay is okay." "If you expose children to a gay couple, you'll corrupt them." Now a days, so many children grow up in a single-parent home that they aren't getting the attention and support they need to truly develop. As someone who has several teachers as friends and family, I can say with confidence that the home situation is something that greatly affects how well children focus and dedicate themselves to difficult parts of life. If straight couples are constantly obsessing over their own views, or there are abusive members of a family, those children will be far worse off than if they lived near (or with!) a gay couple. Family Values will only become a meaningful argument after we have some evidence to support that it is harmful to nearby children. And, honestly, I fail to see how that can be given the horrible state of marriage in this country today.

The final part of this discussion that I wanted to talk about is civil liberties. The basic rights of those people who live in this country, and the benefits that often come with these rights. I mentioned earlier that legal marriage is something that confers special benefits to those couples who are registered with the country or state they live in. These benefits have nothing to do with religious orientation. They are purely economic and social benefits that are largely denied to same-sex couples simply due to their personal orientation. Allowing a lifelong partner to visit someone who is hospitalized due to an illness is not something that should be limited based on religion. The tax benefits of married couples is nothing to dismiss, either. These benefits can mean thousands of dollars every year being returned to them for staying together and combining their economic assets. Then we can get into the social impact of allowing same sex couples. These can include: More foster homes for children. Fewer people losing their jobs due to them being "outted" at their workplace (yes, this still happens). We can focus more on real issues that affect our country when we are in a political cycle. And, perhaps the most important, the idea that gay people are somehow "broken" may stop being taught to our children. This last one is a huge point for me. We often have debates that can shift the entire framework for what is right and wrong in our country. For a long time, being gay was something that was just quietly ignored. If it was found out you were, a minor excuse was made and you went away. Now, it is a huge issue that must be actively punished. And why? Because you are afraid people might say it is okay? Who are you to tell others whether or not their personal lives are right?

The discussion on gay rights seems to be one that involves people looking at the state of OTHER people's lives, and deciding it isn't right. On this issue, as with most, if what you choose to do with your life doesn't negatively impact mine, I think you should have the right to do what you want. Given the legal benefits of marriage in this country, they should have the right to be LEGALLY married. Whether or not a religious ceremony happens should be up to the individual churches they attend and/or worship at. The separation of church and state is a wonderful idea in this country. And letting a certain group's religious views dictate what others in this country can do in their personal lives is the worst form of church dictatorship we could have.

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