Why Marriage Equality is Important

Marriage Equality March, State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin.  On the day that the U. S. Supreme Court heard arguments on California's Proposition 8.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Marriage Equality March, State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin. On the day that the U. S. Supreme Court heard arguments on California’s Proposition 8. Photo by Callen Harty.

As the U. S. Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of California’s proposition 8, which overturned same-sex marriage in the state, the question arises, “Why is marriage equality important?”

Some would argue that it is not, that married couples of any sort should not be acccorded benefits that single people do not have, and I believe there is a point there. There are those, even in the queer community, who believe that LGBT activists should never have expended energy on the issue, that it is simply buying into a paternalistic world-view and that we should redefine commitment for ourselves. The argument is that marriage is an outdated institution anyway and that wanting it is simply bourgeois or even elitist. And maybe it is in some ways. The early architects of the marriage debate in the queer community were wealthy backers of organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Fund, and maybe most of us felt they defined what issues we needed to fight for without input from the rest of us. But marriage equality is importantly something that as a queer man I cannot have that others can have solely because of their sexual orientation or identity. To not have the opportunity for marriage, even if I don’t want it, makes me less of a citizen and human being. It is, at its most basic level, discriminatory.

Simply put, marriage equality is important because equality is important.

We are guaranteed equality by the Constitution of the United States. While we may believe that everyone is truly created equal nobody is foolish enough to believe that everyone is equal, even in 2013. Marriage equality is only one element of discrimination against queer folk, but it is just that–one element of discrimination. We also still need to end laws in dozens of states that allow institutional discrimination such as legally firing people because they are gay, allowing housing discrimination, and more. Further yet, as a nation we must end all discrimination, not just for the LGBT community, but also for the African-American community, immigrant community, Muslim community, and more. We are all supposed to be created equal. But anyone who is in a minority group in this country can tell you unequivocally that we are not all treated equally under the law. Marriage equality for queer people is simply one step in that long road to equality for all. Justice-seeking people are fighting for equality for all people on many fronts every day. We are all in this together and there are many battles to be fought simultaneously.

Marriage equality is also a fundamental right that is easier to fight because it is so blatantly obvious. It is much harder to prove that I was fired because I am gay. It is much harder to prove that I was pulled over on the highway because I am Latino. It is much harder to prove that I am getting paid less because I am a woman. It is much harder to prove that cops are more suspicious of me being out at night because I am black. Bigots can hide behind lies with these more subtle forms of discrimination. However, it is definitely not subtle to be told that I cannot marry because the object of my affection shares the same gender, and to have lawyers argue that the reason for it is that marriage has been the same for thousands of years when in fact anyone who can read can tell you that marriage has continuously evolved over the course of that time.

I will say it again. Marriage equality is important because equality is important.

And it is only one of many battles that we are fighting, and it is an important one.

As it stands if I were to become seriously ill tonight my family would have more rights than my partner, Brian, in determining my treatment. If I were to suddenly pass away without a will my possessions, including my share of our house, would belong to my family, not to him. There are countless lesbian and gay couples who do not have a thousand rights and more that straight married couples have, simply because we cannot legally marry. And this is in a society where more than 50% of marriages end in divorce. Brian and I have been together for almost 22 years and are as in love now as we were that many years ago. How dare anyone suggest that our love is not real or meaningful? How dare our country that pretends equality for all not allow us to proclaim our love in a public ceremony as so many of our friends have done? How dare our government stand by this bigotry when the 14th amendment provides us equal protection under the law?

Tell Mildred Loving that marriage was not an important civil right. Tell Sharon Kowalski that marriage is meaningless. Tell anyone whose loving partnership has suffered inequity at the hands of this society that marriage is not important. Marriage equality is important, because equality is important, because equal opportunity is important, because equal protection is important, and because love in all its forms defines us as human beings and denial of that love by the majority prevents me from the opportunity of full citizenship and participation in the society in which I was born. Without it my love will not be diminished, but equality will be.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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