Why A Heterosexual, Married, North Carolinian Father Of Three Cares About LGBT Equality
I am a heterosexual, married, father of three, who has lived in North Carolina for most of my life. There have been a few ugly North Carolina moments during the time I have lived here (mostly related to one particular senator who has been in our rear view mirror for quite some time). But the ugliness that took place in North Carolina General Assembly this week was a stark reminder that, while we have made great strides in this state, there are a lot of people who still wish to deny rights to other citizens based on religious beliefs and misconceptions about sexuality and gender.
Unless you were living under a rock the past few days, you know that the NC Senate voted 30-16 to approve a proposed constitutional amendment banning any legal relationship recognition for same-sex couples. The amendment will be on the ballot in May during the Republican presidential primary.
Same-sex marriage, it should be noted, is already illegal in North Carolina. The amendment is simply a push to put the nail in the coffin, making it extremely difficult for same-sex marriages to be legalized in the future.
The issue of same-sex marriage is complicated in North Carolina, as it is in any state. According to recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, while most North Carolinians strongly believe that same-sex marriage should be illegal, they also strongly believe that there should not be a constitutional amendment to write that into the constitution. As conflicted as that message may be, it is clear: people may disagree on an issue, but that doesn't mean we should play political football with our constitution.
I've had people ask why I am so vocal about the issue of LGBT equality. Why is a heterosexual, married father so concerned with what gay people can or can't do? I don't have a dog in this fight, do I?
I find those kinds of questions to be puzzling (and telling), as if we should value the rights of one group of humans over any other group, or only be concerned with the welfare of a group to which we belong. As Elie Wiesel said, "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
So, anyway, this is why I care (and why you should too):
LGBT people are citizens. I have friends (some of whom were married in other states years ago) who love each other as dearly as I love my own wife (and who have been committed to each other for just as long). It pains me to know that there are people who reject the validity of these relationships, and who wish to deny these couples the same benefits that other married couples are afforded. These committed, same-sex couples are North Carolinians. They contribute to the economy, they pay taxes, and they certainly do not deserve to be treated as second-class citizens by anyone. Just as it is hard to believe that we once denied marriage rights to interracial couples, or voting rights to women and African-Americans, we will look back upon this time with the same disbelief and shame.
Homosexuality is not a choice. Although science has not zeroed in on any one single cause, the growing body of research suggests that sexual orientation is caused by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences. The biological factors related to sexual orientation involve a constellation of genetic factors, as well as brain structure and early uterine environment. Homosexuality is so natural, in fact, that it occurs in nature. Still not sold? The following major medical and professional organizations have also concluded that sexual orientation (and gender identity) is not a choice: American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, Royal College of Psychiatrists, and American Academy of Pediatrics. If you think that all these scientists, doctors, and experts are all part of a conspiracy to advance the homosexual agenda, ask yourself this: at what point in your life did you make the choice to be heterosexual?
Kids do just fine in families with same-sex parents. "All of the major professional organizations with expertise in child welfare have issued reports and resolutions in support of gay and lesbian parental rights" (Professor Judith Stacey, New York University). These organizations include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and Canadian Psychological Association. A recent study indicates that kids with lesbian parents may actually do better than their peers. If you are convinced that kids absolutely need one mom and one dad, you're a) forgetting about the many single-parent families in existence, b) equating 'gut feelings' with facts, c) depriving a lot of children a wonderful life with a family, a stable, loving home, and the best opportunities possible.
Religious arguments against same-sex marriage do not pass the Lemon Test, a three-pronged legal requirement which stipulates that a) the government's action must have a secular legislative purpose, b) the government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and c) the government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion. I am not sure I have heard anyone make a case against same-sex marriage that did not invoke religion. The second that your argument mentions God, or references a biblical passage, I cannot entertain your argument. As a Humanist, I reject supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition. Your religious arguments against same-sex marriage belong on that heap of nonsense. They have no basis in reality, are not supported by the science, and have no place in legislation. Unfortunately, anti-LGBT legislators cynically take great care to ensure that the language in their legislation is not based on a religious ground -- even though we all know it is rooted in religious dogma. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
Happiness is contagious. Really. It's true. And guess what else? Acceptance of LGBT folks helps protect against depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Why in the world would anyone want to cause suffering in others? If the answer lies in your religion, then you need to re-evaluate your religion. Its ancient morality is flawed at best. Societies which embrace human reason, ethics, justice, and the search for human fulfillment are statistically happier societies. According to Gallup data, the happiest nations were Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands. These countries are among the least religious in the world. Coincidence? I'm not asking you to discard your religion. Just keep it to yourself, your family, and your congregation. We'll all be happier if you do.
Definitions change. Society evolves. I keep hearing over and over that "we can't redefine marriage." Well, why not? We have been redefining marriage throughout history. In fact, marriage pre-dates recorded history. The Bible (which is often used to defend the 'one man'/'one woman' definition) is full of polygamous marriages. There is also a long history of recognized same-sex marriages all over the world (including, but not limited to: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Japan, India, England, Italy, and North America). Over the course of history, marriage has meant different things: Love, the granting of property rights, or the protection of bloodlines. In some cultures two men and two women have been allowed to marry. People have historically married for many different reasons: legal, social, economic, spiritual, libidinal, and religious. So stop it with your 'sacred institution' argument and open up some history books. When you say that the Bible is clear about homosexuality, you must also admit that it was also very clear about how to treat your slaves, and the uncleanliness of women during their menstrual period. Listen. Society evolves. Sometimes we leave behind the Bronze Age mentality of the men who wrote the Bible. You want your marriage to be a religious, strictly bible-based marriage? That's fine. Nobody is stopping you from having one.
Don't we want less government intrusion in our lives? It's interesting that most of the people who support the ban on same-sex marriage also seem to be interested in less government intrusion. They want the government out of their health care. They want the TSA to keep their hands off their junk. They want less regulations on corporations. They worry the government is going to take away their rights: to bear arms, to speak freely, to practice their religion, to say 'Merry Christmas,' and to choose what kind of light bulb they use in their houses. They are furious when the government tries to tell them what they shouldn't eat, where they can or cannot smoke, or how much gas their car can guzzle. And these same people want the government to restrict the rights of someone else. They want the government to tell them what they can or can't do with another consenting adult. How do you reconcile your belief in a small, less intrusive government with your approval of legislation intended to restrict the rights of taxpaying citizens and to control who they should and shouldn't love? It's absurd. You want deregulation? Let's deregulate marriage.
I am a father of three beautiful boys. They are all young enough that they have not shown any definitive signs of sexual orientation one way or the other. Chances are, they will be heterosexual. Of course, there are studies indicating that the more older brothers a boy has, the greater the probability is that he will have a homosexual orientation. This is related to the in-utero maternal immune response, which increases with subsequent sons. Of course this is only one of many studies dealing with the hormonal factors associated with sexual orientation, but my point is, if any of my sons were gay, that's perfectly okay. We would accept him for who he is, and love him just the same. I don't worry about that. What I do worry about is this: if I did have a gay son, how could I explain to him that people don't want him to have the same rights as everyone else? How can I explain to him that if he wants to grow up, buy a home, and start a family, he might need to move to a state that doesn't reject him? How can I explain that people believe he is an abomination whose perverted lifestyle will lead him to an eternity in hell? How would I feel if my son killed himself because he was bullied, maligned, ridiculed, and made to feel as if he had no place in society? The only way to avoid any of our children going through this is to send a clear message that people are different and that's okay. Some families just have one mom, or one dad. Some have a mom and a dad. And some have two moms or two dads. And maybe if our state's leaders stop sending the message to our children that they are unwanted, maybe we can save the life of a child. Isn't that worth it?
At the end of the day, it just makes sense. Ask yourself what you are worried about if same-sex marriage is legalized. Whatever your answer is, ask yourself if you really believe what you just came up with. Homosexuality is not going to spread. It is not communicable. Society is not going to turn into a Lady Gaga video. Most gay couples I know are just as boring as you and I. They sit on the couch and watch television. They work at the post office, the hospital, the grocery store, and at real estate agencies, just like heterosexuals do. They eat out at restaurants and shop at Target. Many have pot bellies and don't have much fashion sense, just like me. They own pets, and go to church. They volunteer, sing Christmas carols, and buy Girl Scout cookies. What are you afraid of? What is going to change by allowing these people to commit to one another and enjoy the benefits that you and I enjoy: tax breaks, insurance breaks, bereavement leave, medical leave to care for a sick partner, domestic violence protection, visitation of partner in the hospital, burial determination, medical decisions on behalf of partner. Really sexy stuff. You and I take these things for granted. Nobody wants to go through life not knowing how they will deal with some of these difficult moments in life. Imagine if you were denied any of the above rights when the time came for you and your spouse to exercise that right? I'll tell you what it would feel like. It would feel like you were a second-class citizen.
So, if you're a North Carolina citizen, and you care about equality, please make yourself heard. Whether you're straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, speak up. Educate yourself about the May amendment vote. Donate, volunteer, tweet, post Facebook statuses, blog, talk to your churches, your neighbors, your friends and relatives. Help them understand the science behind sexual orientation, and help them understand the importance of voting on May 8. 'Like' the organizations that are working to fight this amendment, and stay informed (EqualityNC, HRC). Repost articles and blog posts to keep friends aware.
There is a lot of work to be done. There are many things each of us can do. But we can't be indifferent.
"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel