Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Our Generations Civil Rights Movement

      I have been doing a lot of thinking about the subject of same sex marriage, and by extension civil rights in general, and I truly believe that this subject is our generations primary civil rights fight. I'm 22, I believe that at the very latest in 20 years this will be in a similar place as the race civil rights fight, that is to say not over, but no longer fighting an all out war against a clear opposing side (such as Jim Crow, segregation, overt racism etc. or in the homosexuality parallel, same sex marriage, adoptions rights, and widespread overt homophobia). I believe that children today are increasingly growing up in a world where they are genuinely unconcerned about sexual orientation, that within a few years most kids will come out when they want to, unafraid of social ostracism or parental, church, or social condemnation. So this is our fight, and winning is in how quickly we can achieve true equality. The best part about this fight is that as with all fights against intolerance it is one which works something like a ratchet, as homosexuality becomes more open, and as people learn that they do in fact know people who are homosexual (and trust me, you do, even if they aren't out), they have their preconceived notions stripped away, their prejudices and fears abolished, and they come to view homosexuals not as some fearful other, but just another part of the fabric of society of which they too are a part.

     I will therefore address the issue in several ways, in order to add my voice to the online conversation, and to help me organize the thoughts I've had on the topic. The first is a comparison of this fight to the one fought in the 50s-70s for race equality.

     One of the clearest parallels is the fact that this is at it's core a question of a majority which is not directly affected by legal and social discrimination facing the question of the morality of that discrimination, a question raised and driven by the minority and their allies among the majority. Black Americans found support among liberal progressives and religious organizations, and faced opposition from businesses, socially conservative regressives, and simply put, racist ignorants. Homosexuals are finding support from many of those same liberal progressives, and some of the same religious organizations (the "religion" I was raised with, Unitarian Universalism has been strongly active in both causes from their earliest days) yet many religious folk have been at the forefront of the anti-gay movement. These run the gamut from the spittle spewing "GOD HATES FAGS" crew to the more soft spoken "we don't hate you, we just want to help lead you away from sin and into grace" type, yet each does harm to people who want to live their lives as they were made, doing no harm to anyone by doing so.
    Miscegenation is a great example of the similarities, and represents where I see the future of same-sex marriage going. Once it was viewed as inherently wrong, and rightly illegal, now it is socially unacceptable to condemn it, though many from both races will still judge those who are in interracial relationships. Human attraction is a complex thing, we don't entirely understand what makes some people attracted to one feature, or one gender. Races mixing was viewed by many in earlier generations as unnatural and disgusting, much as homosexuality is viewed by some today, and was widely regarded as such quite recently. This is partly due to simple societal trends which stated one one hand that being attracted to your own race was the only normal condition, and on the other that being attracted to the opposite gender was the only normal condition. Both are reinforced by those people who do not feel much temptation to step outside those norms, and thus FEEL that the norms are correct. People often conflate gut reactions to some sort of implicit rightness of a position, our revulsion at the thought of pedophilia is then compared with heterosexual revulsion at the thought of homosexual sex and the two feelings being alike we assume both are equally unnatural. The same feelings affected people thinking about racial mixing in the middle of the last century and earlier. The difference between pedophilia on the one hand and miscegenation/homosexuality on the other though is harm done, and consent given. Children are not able to give consent, this is a view that is widely accepted by the public, and by psychologists; they don't have the mental or biophysical maturity to make and informed decision, and in a relationship between an adult and a child the inherent power-imbalance means that coercion is impossible to avoid. The same cannot be said of adults of different races, or the same gender. Simply accepting that since YOU don't see the attraction of homosexuality, and indeed are decidedly turned off by it that that means homosexuality is unnatural or wrong displays a lack of logic, and more importantly a lack of empathy.

     The Civil Rights Movement fought against the notion that separate could be equal, that there was some inherent distinction between white and black, that it was okay for people to be treated differently because of some characteristic that they could not change, and that did not, in any real way, change their character, or affect other people. It fought for equality, for fair treatment under the law, and for increased understanding of the plight of black Americans. It fought for love. MLK made much use of biblical lessons in his speeches, as is to be expected from a preacher, he drew on Jesus, a man who endorsed love and compassion, who endorsed empathy, rejection of dogma, acceptance, and forgiveness. That is what I, and fellow activists fighting for the rights of LGBT people and couples are asking for. Empathy for people different from yourselves, understanding of the plight they face for something they didn't choose, likely would not have chosen if they'd had a choice (for who in the present climate would prefer to feel an attraction that means they won't be able to marry the person they love, they will face hatred and intolerance on a daily basis, and will have to deal with and come to terms with the fact that many people say they are going to burn in hell?). We ask for fair treatment, for true equality, for acceptance instead of segregation. Same sex marriage may not be common in history, but neither is marriage purely for love, and for that matter, neither is miscegenation. There can be no argument which does not rely on misdirection, resorting to a narrow interpretation of religious doctrine, or simple ignorance and hatred which can be used to say the marriage should be restricted to people of opposite gender. Just as there couldn't be for denying the rights of people who wanted to marry outside of the socially accepted boundaries of race and culture.
Next up: why basing laws on religious doctrine is a dangerous path, why Christianity doesn't actually condemn homosexuality, and why arguments claiming to show the "damage" done by homosexuality to both society and individuals are absolute bunk.

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