My name is Samii Ruddy and I am an ordinary U.S. citizen -- well, I think of myself as one. I enjoy cooking, I play guitar, and I volunteer for fun. I am a daughter, a sister, and a girlfriend.
There is one catch to my seemingly normal life, however: I'm the girlfriend of a woman, so my government and I don't see eye-to-eye on the 'ordinary' self-description. I'm getting ready to begin my senior year at Syracuse University and in addition to my concerns about post-graduate employment, I have the added stress of making sure that I can secure it in a U.S. city that is welcoming to gay members and preferably has civil union or marriage equality laws in-place.
We are again at a civil rights crossroad in this country. Increasingly, polls are showing that Americans are not only okay with their gay neighbors, family members, and friends' relationships, but they are also acknowledging the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and the importance of allowing gay Americans to marry. There are still plenty of individuals who do not feel this way -- roughly 42 percent of the country according to Gallup -- but the opinion is gradually shifting toward acceptance. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for opponents of marriage equality is that there are very few arguments against it that are not completely grounded in religious beliefs. Furthermore, those few arguments tend to selectively punish gay parents for behaviors our Western society is largely accepting of in straight citizens.
Many people believe that if we extend marriage benefits to gay couples, churches will be forced to perform marriages they don't agree with. This is a scare tactic and historically inaccurate. We allow women to vote and hold office in the United States, yet there are still no female Southern Baptist pastors. We allow divorce as a nation, yet the Roman Catholic church refuses to perform marriages for those who are divorced. If religious institutions can continue to stand their ground on these issues without the state interfering, I have no doubt that churches will be more than able to continue refusing ceremonial marriages to gay people without government interference. Religious institutions that aren't tax-supported are well within their rights to discriminate. They should not, however, expect our government to discriminate based on their biases. How can we continue to use the fact that homosexuality is wrong in the eyes of some religions' God as justification for denying gay American couples rights such as hospital visitation, shared child custody, and tax benefits? It is an assault on the concept of separation of church and state.
I am the product of the Catholic K-12 school system and even in a deeply religious school, I was taught that what makes the United States great is our freedom of religion: a direct result of our government's secularity. Once we lose the secular nature of our government, the freedom of practice that we hold in such high-regard is exchanged for a one-religion theocracy. What if your local fast food chain was forced to close on Sundays? Or what if all 1st graders -- even those at a Christian school -- had to take Hebrew classes and stop eating pork? If the Bible can be used as a basis to pass laws that deny rights to gay couples now, in the future it can be used as a valid foundation for laws regarding shrimp, tattoos, corduroy clothing, divorce, death sentences for cheating spouses, slavery, and the murder of disobedient children. Our personal freedoms that many consider to be the cornerstone of Americanism could disappear before our eyes. At some point, it ceases being 'freedom of religion' and begins to be 'tyranny of religion.'
There are also individuals who claim that there are secular reasons for banning gay marriage, though I've yet to hear one that wasn't rooted in discrimination and infringement upon personal rights at its core. The most common non-biblical argument against marriage equality that I have come across is that children need a mother and a father. On the surface this seems reasonable, but we are no longer a nation filled with white weddings, lifetime commitments, and nuclear households. Not all children have the opportunity to be raised by two parents. As an American, it is a fundamental right to be able to believe homosexuals shouldn't raise children. It is not okay, however, to selectively use this argument against gay parents when there are no federal laws in any state preventing single, heterosexual individuals from adopting children.
I firmly believe that one day we'll hold gay Americans and straight Americans to the same standards. Instead of viewing a family with two mothers or fathers as unorthodox, we'll just see them as an ordinary, modern American family. We'll consider them members of our community and our neighbors, just like we do the step-father and his step-children next door, the mother and father who live upstairs, and the single mother who resides across the street. The sooner we stop tolerating the selective, unconstitutional use of religious arguments to discriminate, the sooner the day this becomes reality will arrive. My name is Samii Ruddy and with each passing day, I am closer to being an ordinary U.S. citizen.