On Wednesday, the President gave his answer. Taking head-on the last great civil right issue, Mr. Obama became the first American president in history to endorse same sex marriage, injecting a volatile issue into election year politics. Mitt Romney again endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage.
While all this was percolating, I, by coincidence, met a 20-something openly gay man who embodied why marriage equality is so important. The man, whom I will call Victor, is living with his family. His father is a fundamentalist preacher, whose best friend often visits. The best friend also allegedly raped a then 10-year old Victor. Victor never told his father, afraid his father would choose his best friend over his gay son.
Today, Victor is unable to sustain an intimate relationship. Instead, he told me, he causes others to fall in love with his pretty-boy looks, then rejects them and rejoices in their pain. Victor is self-aware, and hates his compulsive behavior. Perhaps, he acknowledged, it is an unconscious reenactment of his father’s “dumping” him under the guise of loving him, while inflicting emotional pain.
Victor is not the only person I’ve met caught in such a trap. Fifteen years ago, while reporting for the Los Angeles Times, I came across a teen who had moved from Georgia to L.A. because her fundamentalist family could not accept her homosexuality. Living in the streets, Gretchen, as I will call her, found shelter at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, which also provided clean clothes and training, enabling her to land a job as a sales girl. When she got the key to her first apartment and was able to close her own door, she felt “bliss.”
These two people – and others I have interviewed amid heartbreaking conditions – belie the fundamentalist claim that by rejecting gay marriage, they are strengthening family. In reality, fundamentalist bigotry destroys the children they claim to love. And those who can not escape their family’s narrow values – those who choose loyalty to family above their own survival – suffer grievously.
Thus, a federal study shows that gay teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than are their straight counterparts. The true problem, then, is not that gay marriage undermines straight marriage. A straight marriage coming apart will do so, regardless, and a healthy straight marriage will remain strong, regardless.
The true problem, instead, is that the lack of gay equality undermines numerous straight marriages as children are forced to distance themselves from their parents or escape early, while desolate parents watch their family crumble. Unsurprisingly, the nation’s highest divorce rates are in the Deep South, where fundamentalism reigns; the lowest divorce rates are in Massachusetts, which first legalized gay marriage. In states which recognize gay marriage, 41% percent of marriages ended in divorce in 2009, the last year for which statistics are available from the Census Bureau. In states which did not recognize gay marriage, the rate topped 50 percent.
Which brings us back to Victor, who must regularly smile at the abuser invited into his own home, denying his own personal integrity, or risk losing what remains of his father’s love. And to the Los Angeles teen-ager who bravely saved her own life – while her parents’ marriage suffered. This is why gay equality matters.
Even before he announced support for gay marriage, Obama had already done more for gay equality than any other president. Most notably, his justice department has refused to defend the “Defense of Marriage Act,” championed by John Boehner. Boehner and his Republican House caucus then authorized a taxpayer-funded defense of this law prohibiting federal recognition of gay marriage. Obama and his Congressional allies also overcame an attempted Republican filibuster against repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” which led to the firing of scarce Arab-English translators for saying they were gay, even as Al Qaeda planned more attacks on America, including one just this week. And yet, Republicans claim it is they who can best insure American national security. How, precisely?
I don’t claim to understand the political calculus on marriage equality in this election year – whose votes would be lost and whose votes gained by standing up for equality. I do know, however, that elevating hatred over love undermines American families, and who we are as a country. Such homophobic hatred also plays mental havoc with the Victors of the world. I pray that he can get past his father’s ignorance, and into a healthy relationship – perhaps even legally marrying a loving partner in church.
And for the rest of us who have watched our own Victors and Gretchens struggle against massive hatred, gay equality should be a national priority. Those who oppose such equality are subverting family and country.
Perhaps it’s time to confront them with this.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist