There is an unfortunate stereotype of the gay community (with a nod to Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy): a bunch of well-heeled folks who shop and brunch. Not exactly the look of suffering. Frankly, most Californians would aspire to that kind of suffering. I believe this is one of the reasons we lost in California. We simply didn't look like a group of people who needed rights.
I have been Out for nearly twenty years. I love my community (including those who shop and brunch) and I've worked in the gay community long enough to know the facts. It is not always pretty being gay. Let's talk about truths to gay life in America.
1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States gay men are still the most infected group when it comes to AIDS.
2. According to FBI reports, gay men and lesbians are the third most-often targets for hate crimes, behind only racial and religious minorities.
3. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, it is estimated that gay people make up approximately five percent of the American population, but can make up to 20-40 percent of homeless youth in this country.
This is the underbelly of the gay community. This is why we want rights, marriage or otherwise. We are a community that knows pain. How will getting gay marriage rights help any of these problems? Marriage encourages principles of family and support and love and caring. I am not a therapist, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that not having these principles in gay daily life can spur the aforementioned problems.
I have worked in the AIDS field long enough to know that one of the reasons gay men get infected is because we don't feel our lives are worth saving. In other words, we feel like crap for being gay. How will marriage rights help that? It will say in the eyes of society that I am equal. My state sees me as equal. A way to help women leave abusive battering relationships, a way to help them take care of themselves is to empower them to believe that they're smart, capable women. They are equal, if not better, than the men who belittled and abused them. Feeling equal leads to a better life, period.
How will gay marriage help those who target us for hate crimes? Many years ago, I was a victim of a gay bashing. I was fortunate to get away. The image of those men who tried to jump me is burned into my mind. They were young men, some of whom wore Scapulars, religious Catholic vestments. (I was given one at my first Holy Communion) I wonder if those men would have hurt me if they knew that I was also raised Catholic and believed in the same God that they did.
I was targeted because bashers saw me as dispensable, an object to throw away. They did not see me as a person with a soul or as someone's husband or father. When any institution, religious or governmental, tells its flock or its subjects that gay people don't deserve the same rights, in essence, they are saying they don't deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to heterosexuals. And this can lead to violent acts committed against us.
How will marriage help gay homeless youth? If I couldn't grow up in a family who loved and valued me, well, for goodness sake, allow me the hope to create one of my own. When I was young, I was romantic. Maybe I didn't come from the perfect family, but, later in life, I could end up with one. By denying marriage rights, we are dashing the hopes and dreams of young homosexuals, who like young heterosexuals, have dreams of meeting Prince or Princess Charming and living happily ever after.
I am not saying that gaining marriage rights will suddenly heal all the ills of the gay community, but it's a step in the right direction. After all, the civil rights of African Americans led the way for Barack Obama.
When it was announced that the California Supreme Court would uphold Prop 8, there were wails and moans. Those deep sounds of mourning did not come from a community who saw their registries at Crate and Barrel go up in smoke, it came from a place of intense anguish. We have died of AIDS, we have been attacked and humiliated, we have been thrown onto the streets to fend for ourselves. Now, you're telling us we can't even get married?
We are not simply a faaaaabulous community wanting an excuse to throw an engagement party. We are a damaged minority seeking solace. That solace can come in the symbol of a gold ring.