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Gay Marriage: The Issue Is Respect

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NEW YORK GAY MARRIAGE
AP

Earlier this year, a student in a human rights seminar I was teaching declared her conviction that gay parents damage their children by virtue of being gay. I explained as gently as I could why this is a discriminatory notion, incompatible with human rights standards, and moved on. My student sat as if stunned for two minutes, then gathered her books and left the class.

She later confronted me outside the classroom, and I was astonished to see just how fervently she insisted that her opinion was both based on science and respectful of rights. Neither is true. As New York State joins the ranks of countries and other jurisdictions recognizing same-sex marriage, it's worth reflecting on rights and respect.

The fact is that thousands of human beings are subjected to violence across they globe simply because they are suspected of being gay. In Brazil alone, over 2,500 men were murdered between 1997 and 2007, ostensibly for being gay. In the United States, the It Gets Better Project has highlighted the sustained violence and bullying young people suffer just because they aren't straight. This month, the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time condemned violence and other human rights violations based on a person's sexual orientation or identity.

Of course, those who oppose same-sex marriage in New York State and elsewhere are not saying they support violence against LGBTQ people. Nevertheless, the same basic proposition lies at the root of both: the notion that you are somehow a different -- lesser -- type of human being if you are not, or are not seen to be, straight, and that society is justified in rejecting you.

For too many people it is only a short leap from seeing homosexuality as offensive to justifying physical harm. In this way, for example, the ban on inter-racial marriage in this country coexisted with societal acceptance of violence against people of color. Many times, inter-racial couples suffered violence precisely because they dared to break the ban.

But perhaps the deepest-held notion is the one that was expressed so vehemently by my student: that all children brought up by LGBTQ persons are psychologically damaged. Fortunately, it is increasingly recognized that it is not exposure to diversity but rather to bigotry and prejudice that is damaging to kids. In 2008, the European Court on Human Rights held that France was not allowed to deny the adoption application of a women just because she was a lesbian. And in February, the High Court in the United Kingdom barred a couple from becoming foster parents because their anti-gay views were held to be potentially harmful to the children who would be in their care.

In fact, research shows that children with gay parents are just as likely to be well-adjusted as children with straight parents, and that the key to childhood adjustment is good relationships between parents and children and between the parents themselves.

Marriage, of course, does not guarantee good relationships. But where family leave and other benefits depend on marital status, children are disadvantaged if their parents are not allowed to marry. The vote in Albany this week is significant because it is another step toward guaranteeing children and adults the rights and respect they are entitled to.

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