The Status Is NOT Quo, Mr. President
So now that the Democratic President of the United States has finally agreed that same-sex couples have the same rights to recognized, protected legal relationships and households, what does that actually mean? Well, if you parse the statements, it’s symbolically important, but for policy it doesn’t mean a whole lot. What this position actually amount to is promoting the status quo.
Especially if you were expecting the visible head of the Democratic Party to express opinions noticeably different from the expressed positions of Dick Cheney. Because they are in fact, identical:
- Same sex couples should be able to choose to get married.
- States should be able to ban marriage equality without interference from the Federal government.
These are contradictory positions, and functionally they are as substantial as a toasted meringue. There is absolutely no secular, civic objection to protecting the rights of same-sex couples and their families that does not ultimately come down to prejudicial rationalization that being gay is wrong.
And I’m simply not convinced that we have a president that has moved past religious ideas that being LGBT is somehow to be broken. The people who have changed the president’s mind to be comfortable with same-sex marriage in principle (but not as a basic right) are those he describes as:
…in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together…
And while it’s great that he now acknowledges these people are no less committed and dedicated than their straight counterparts, gay and bisexual people shouldn’t have to prove their capacity for fidelity and monogamy before they are allowed to marry. We certainly would never suggest this for straight couples; we don’t even force them to prove the marriage will last at all.
Unlike so many others, I’ve only ever lost one person I loved to AIDS. Kurt and cousin Donnie had been together for over 25 years, from the time that Donnie was 17. They were as committed and loving as any couple I’ve ever known, but they weren’t sexually exclusive and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Because they lived in a state and year that prevented them from even domestic partnerships, when Kurt found himself HIV positive and rapidly declining, they needed to take precautions with their assets. They put together wills and such to protect Donnie from problems with inheritances, but then Kurt found that he couldn’t bring himself to sign them.
In his mind, if he signed those documents, he would die*. When he did die, his hateful, hateful family, the ones who had cursed him all his life, who had disowned him, who had told him he was suffering a righteous punishment from an evil god as he lay dying, they got the home that Donnie and Kurt had lived in for years. With ghoulish triumph, they demanded that Donnie buy back his own home, and he had no other choice.
These two were incredibly loving people and no one who knew them would consider them uncommitted. But they almost certainly wouldn’t pass the test of fitting into the comfortable monogamous household that has convinced the president gay people should have the option to marry. That is wrong. They deserved a chance to marry as much as the ultra-monogamous couple with kids that is so often held up as the reason gay people should be married.
Gay people should have the choice to be married for the same reason straight people have that choice. When Judge Walker released his incredible decision** in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, I wept at the articulation of a simple truth in the findings of fact:
Domestic partnerships lack the social meaning associated with marriage, and marriage is widely regarded as the definitive expression of love and commitment in the United States.
If we lived in a time when the rights of same-sex couples were valued, injustices like what happened to Donnie could not happen. But it does happen and it happens on large and small scales every day. That is why we demand justice. Why each evolving delay or dodge is so bitter.
I truly am grateful that no longer do we have a president that endorses a second-class citizenship for same-sex couples: a lesser recognition and set of protections. I really am. But it simply isn’t enough, and President Obama has a great deal more evolving to do on the matter.
By the President’s standards, what happened yesterday in North Carolina was good and fine and ethical. He implies we should wait until younger generations not burdened with decades of learned bigotry make the shift state by state to make us a more just nation:
It’s interesting, some of this is also generational. You know when I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same-sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation that they believe in equality. They are much more comfortable with it. You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.
This isn’t good enough. Not only is he asking to leave minority rights hostage to the whims of a hostile and homophobic majority vote, (thus delaying just and fair protections for LGBT Americans indefinitely in some states) but President Obama is silent on the Defense of Marriage Act. [See note below] So even in those states where equality triumphed, same-sex couples are financially burdened and penalized. THEY. ARE. NOT. EQUAL. That is unacceptable.
We already knew that the country was headed for marriage equality inevitably. Some of us are sincerely hoping that it will be sooner rather than later, with a fair verdict from SCOTUS on Perry v. Schwarzenegger. But that does not remove the responsibility of the more progressive party to lead the charge and to remove the federal constraints that continue to harm legally married couples across the country. Pretending that you are finished now, and using a cowardly dodge that we’ll get there eventually with the work of younger generations simply is not good enough. We need a president who will be a leader in a quest for equal rights, nothing less.
You still have some evolving to do, Mr. President. The status is not quo.
[UPDATE] It appears that the President’s remarks do include a mention of the DOMA noting that the administration ceased defending an unconstitutional law, but he does not advocate any federal legislation to repeal DOMA either. He doesn’t get a cookie for failing to waste taxpayer resources if this is his position:
After Obama’s announcement, Mother Jones‘ David Corn spoke with an administration source and asked whether the president recognized gay marriage as a right. The official replied, “He has always said that it is a state issue, and he’s not suggesting changing that. He did did not support the North Carolina amendment, but he’s not saying he will bring up a piece of federal legislation on gay marriage. This is how he feels himself about the issue, and he leaves it to the states.”
*If you ever remember being angry at Louis for abandoning a dying lover in Angels in America, this gives you an idea how I felt about Kurt. I can rationally understand that fear of death can cause some irrational and selfish panic, but it’s so hard to forgive someone when fear of death makes them betray a partner.
**Seriously, I can’t tell you how inspired I found this decision. I have a stenographer’s notebook completely full of handwritten excerpts. Yes, I do read court decisions (esp. SCOTUS decisions) for fun. I am weird that way.