June 2012

Almost human

By Gail Binkly

Are gays and lesbians fully human? That’s the question on my mind following the Colorado Legislature’s latest thwarted attempt at legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples.

Because if they are human, it’s difficult to muster an argument as to why they should not have the same rights of marriage as other consenting adults.

Sure, they do have the right to marry, technically speaking. They can marry anyone they want – except the person they truly love. They are free to enter into sham marriages with spouses for whom they may have a lukewarm feeling, but they can’t marry a person to whom they are passionately attracted. Instead, they are told, “We (the state) know better than you what type of individual is right for you.” (In other words, someone of the opposite sex.)

There are folks who will argue that, if someone tries hard enough, he or she can will him- or herself to desire the approved human being. Well, if people could press a button and change their sexual preferences, life would be a whole lot easier. However, there is no evidence that this is even remotely possible.

In fact, most heterosexuals don’t believe it themselves. Just call to mind the thousands of books and Hollywood movies in which characters are trapped in relationships with people whom they don’t really love, people who might be nice but still aren’t quite right. According to those who believe homosexuals can change their spots, anybody in such an unfortunate situation just has to really try, and they could fall in love with the person with whom they’re already involved.

Voila! Problem solved. No more divorces or broken hearts.

But we all know it doesn’t work.

One of my high-school classmates (and my date to the junior prom) was a gay guy – a man who has become a lifelong friend. At the time he wasn’t out of the closet; I don’t think he even realized he was gay. But we all knew he was “different.” For one thing, he didn’t like playing sports, which was unheard of for a male in our small rural school. He much preferred sitting on the sidelines with us girls, talking about makeup and gossiping about boyfriends.

Much of the debate over homosexuality has revolved around whether it is a choice. At which point, I wonder, did my friend “choose” to be gay? When he was 6? Ten? And how did it occur? Was he sitting under a tree daydreaming when he decided, “Rather than live a ‘normal’ life, rather than marry and have children and be fully accepted into society, I’ll be attracted to other men. I’ll be scorned and whispered about. Great idea!”

It’s an absurd notion – but just for a moment, let’s postulate that it’s true. Let’s say that homosexuality is a choice. What is the state’s interest in discouraging it? Why is it wrong?

The anti-gay folks will say it violates the tenets of certain religions, including Christianity (although Christ never said anything about homosexuals that I’m aware of). The religious should of course be free to reject behavior that they find immoral. Fine, no church should have to marry a gay couple if it doesn’t approve.

But why should the individual tenets of any particular religion matter to the state?

“We’re a Christian nation!” folks will say. But we aren’t. We were founded by (mostly) Christians, but nothing in the Constitution says we are governed by the Christian church. That document, in fact, makes it quite clear that religion shall remain beyond the purview of matters of state. (If we were a Christian nation, which denomination would we be? Wouldn’t there have to be a prohibition against working on Sundays? And aren’t there many Christian sects that have no problem with homosexuality?)

Of course, there’s the argument that homosexuality is abnormal or unnatural. Sure, it is – in the same sense that red-headedness is, or vegetarianism. It isn’t the norm. But surely that doesn’t mean it’s immoral.

The anti-gays cry that placing a stamp of legitimacy on gay couples – allowing them rights of inheritance, child custody and access to a hospitalized partner – will somehow destroy the alleged “sanctity” of marriage. Pshaw! If the billions of adulteries, divorces, spouse-beatings, marriages of convenience, child brides, gold-digging brides, forced marriages, and miserable unions that have taken place since the dawn of time can’t kill the institution, then surely gay couples can’t, either. Remember, there was a time, fairly recently, when black-white unions were illegal in some of the more “enlightened” Southern states, even though luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson found perhaps his most satisfying relationship with a black slave.

Some will say that lesbians and gays shouldn’t marry because they shouldn’t raise children, but no one can argue with a straight face that heterosexual couples are automatically better parents than gays.

So the only reason left for banning gay marriage and/or civil unions is that gays, in the end, must be not wholly human, thus not qualifying for all the rights and privileges of the rest of us. (Maybe they’re, oh, only three-fifths of a person, shall we say, the way African-Americans used to be counted?)

Yet we don’t treat homosexuals differently in many other ways. We require them to obey all the laws of “regular” society, to pay the same taxes. We “let” them vote. We let them serve in Congress. We even give them the great privilege of dying in battle for the country that treats them as less than fully human.

So isn’t it way past time to stop treating gays as some weird underclass to whom we are generously “granting” certain inalienable (ahem) rights?

The only alternative is to go on pretending that they are subhuman – incapable of genuine (exclusively heterosexual, in plain language) love and unworthy of full membership in our supposedly fair and just society.

Gail Binkly is editor of the Four Corners Free Press.