The other night my husband and I got together with some friends. Although we always look forward to an evening with this particular couple, lately our dinners, which were once so carefree, are now conducted in the shadow of sadness and potential loss. Our close friends might be forced to leave the country.
As same sex partners, not only do they lack the basic rights of any couple in love to marry, since one person is an immigrant on a student visa, they may have to move to another country that acknowledges gay rights and marriage. Fortunately, the other member of the couple, who is an American citizen, is able to obtain work elsewhere. In the long-run, this couple will likely be okay. They get to stay together and there is hope of being in a place that acknowledges basic civil rights.
But the relational cost will be high. They have to leave their friends and loved ones to move to a foreign city where they know no one. And though we will certainly visit them as often as we can, the loss is unspeakable, not only because we love this couple but more painfully, their leaving could be prevented.
Although many people have written about the fact that gay couples have the same loving relationships as their heterosexual counterparts, I find myself, often these days, thinking about how it can be that gay and lesbian couples are so marginalized in a country that promotes itself as free. Pretending that gay partnerships are different from our own is not only false, but threatens our sense of being a dignified society.
Focus on the act of sex itself is part of what leads some to be distant and to deny humanness in same sex couples. In a shocking video of Representative Nancy Elliot, the tactic of disgust is used to distance one kind of sex act from another, with the implication that "bad" sex is gay and "good" sex is straight. Further, there is the use of fear: if gay sex is allowed, then "not normal" sex acts could be done to us. Furthermore, the act of gay sex is opposed to what Representative Elliot thinks of as a "one-flesh union between a man and a woman," clearly a reference to the Bible.
Though Christian values were a part of our country's origins, such values don't quite hold water in a society in which we all reside relatively peacefully given different values and religions. And regarding anal sex, the last time I checked the statistics, many heterosexuals seem to be enjoying this form of intimacy as well.
In order to deny basic civil rights, one has to deny the humanness of the "other." We see this all the time in countries where basic human rights are not valued and where civil war destroys communities, from the Republic of Congo to Iraq, in which one group views another as non-human and where crimes of humanity are allowed to occur. We have also seen this in our own country with slavery and the oppression of African Americans. When a particular group can be viewed as "non-human," basic rights can easily be denied; this lack of consciousness can occur without detriment. Though I agree that not allowing marriage to all is not equivalent to ethnic cleansing, tribal wars, and killing in the name of religion, what does it mean that a supposedly civilized country does not allow marriage based on notions of sexual practices and orientation? That the idea of opposing gay marriage is rooted in Christian beliefs, espoused by a fraction of our diverse nation, suggests that we are not more virtuous than those countries we condemn for lacking basic human rights.
As I was talking with my friends the other night, I felt surprised as to how ashamed I was about living, working and loving my husband in a country that does not allow equal rights regarding marriage. Though I have always been in support of gay unions, it is the potential loss of this couple from our lives that made me feel embarrassed. I felt pressured to come up with an explanation for the shameful practice of not allowing our friends to marry. But U.S. policies in this regard are not rational. Christian religion and ideas about marriage are just as destructive as any other views that have kept people from entitled equal rights. If we admit that gay persons are not so different from us, it will be much harder to oppress them.