My grandma called last week. She'd been clipping news stories about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) movement's progress all over the country and had some questions for me.
In 2009 she'd traveled to Utah from Indiana to attend my commitment ceremony, and just a few months ago she'd been elated to find out that Elenor (or "Ellie," as my grandma calls her), my partner of more than nine years, and I were able to get married on Dec. 20, 2013, when Judge Robert J. Shelby deemed unconstitutional Utah's Amendment 3, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
What she couldn't understand now was why it sounded like there were still potential roadblocks for us. How could that be? I had to tell her that, disappointingly, our plans of starting a family remain on hold because, despite the ruling, Utah has gone to great lengths to continue treating LGBT people as second-class citizens in a multitude of capacities.
And then her eternal optimism illuminated. "But little by little, Marina, things are changing for the better," she said.
And she's right. The movement has seen great gains, even in the last couple of months. Lauded celebrities and respected athletes are coming out en masse (thank you, Ellen Page and Michael Sam), Idaho now allows same-sex parents to adopt, laws in Oklahoma and Virginia that exclude committed and loving gay and lesbian couples from marrying are starting to crack, and Nevada's attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, won't defend the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. And all this comes in addition to announcements from United States Attorney General Eric Holder about increased recognition of same-sex couples by the federal government.
Then my grandma and I talked about how this change is both a result and a reflection of the drastic shift in public opinion on this issue: More and more Americans are realizing that LGBT people are humans very much deserving of the recognition and protection that our heterosexual and cisgender peers enjoy.
I've noticed a subtle shift even in the way she talks about how progress will be achieved. Instead of supporting my work, she sees it as our work. "We have to take our setbacks in stride, celebrate our victories, and focus on educating people," she says. "I really think it's all about education."
Grandma, you're right again. After all, as the late Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." And it seems so, since it's only the people with little or misguided information who are willing to spend precious time and resources in an attempt to preserve these injustices.
And it is with the power of education in mind that I write to expose some basic fallacies of the arguments in favor of the continued oppression and mistreatment of LGBT Americans.
"Same-sex marriage weakens traditional marriage."
This notion of "traditional marriage" might sound reasonable, because there is something nostalgic and lovely about doing things the way they have been done before -- except that's true only until you realize that there are really no other strident efforts to define or protect the sanctity of marriage, even among straight people. As long as they can pay the fee, any two consenting heterosexual people can get a marriage license, regardless of whether they're in love and plan to spend their lives together, and regardless of whether they plan to have children. Even convicted criminals can marry in prison.
The fact that we don't have dowries, divorce is legal, interracial couples can marry, and polygamy has come and gone (and come again?) shows that really the only thing traditional and consistent about marriage, even in our country's short history, is its almost constant evolution.
"The children are at risk."
All major reputable research shows that same-sex couples make fine parents. The American Psychological Association even notes that "the results of some studies suggest that lesbian mothers' and gay fathers' parenting skills may be superior to those of matched heterosexual parents." So the children of gay parents are doing fine, but what about the LGBT children of heterosexual, cisgender parents? It turns out that they're often the ones in desperate need of protection.
Research done by San Francisco State University's Family Acceptance Project found that LGBT youth in highly rejecting families are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers. And the report from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) 2011 National School Climate Survey showed that more than 80 percent of students surveyed reported having been verbally harassed in the past year (e.g., called names or threatened) because of their real or perceived sexual orientation, and nearly 65 percent because of their gender expression.
Being LGBT isn't detrimental to these youth; it's the bullying and rejection that they endure that can be literally life-threatening. Fundamentally, it isn't LGBT people from whom we should be protecting our children; it is those who seek to stoke the fires of prejudice who pose the greatest threat.
"Same-sex marriage could lead to population decline."
This almost doesn't even warrant an answer, but for the sake of education, I'll mention that the state of Utah, in its brief filed with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, said that it "has good reason to fear that a judge-imposed redefinition [of marriage] -- and the changes to the public meaning of marriage such a redefinition would entail -- would over time weaken its marriage tradition enough to reduce its fertility rate, perhaps even below the replacement rate."
Obviously this has to stop. Utah has the highest fertility rate in the nation; we need not worry about the mere possibility of that slowing a bit. In any case, many gay and lesbian couples want to marry so that they can more safely create stable, healthy families.
"LGBT equality and religious freedom can't coexist."
Religious freedom is incredibly important, too important to be justifiably sacrificed for the betterment of the LGBT community. And luckily it won't be. The various marriage, adoption and discrimination cases across the country are aimed at shaping the government's relationship to LGBT people, not that of religion. In fact, many pieces of legislation include exemptions for religious institutions/people in order to preserve and protect the freedom of religious expression upon which our great nation was founded.
Furthermore, this argument nearly completely invalidates the experience of religious LGBT people, as if being religious and being LGBT were always two mutually exclusive identities.
In essence, this work to provide equality and opportunity to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* people comes not at a price for some but to the benefit of us all. And it is when we commit to seeking understanding instead of seeking separation that we will reap the benefits of our collective efforts.
Yes, Grandma, little by little.