County Fair

Marriage Equality Is Everyone's Fight

August 09, 2011 3:05 pm ET by Jamison Foser

This weekend, my longtime partner and I will wed in front of friends and family near my childhood home in central New York. She and I are lucky: America doesn't discriminate against straight people who wish to marry. We've never had to wonder when — or if — we would be able to get married; never had to petition or protest or campaign or sue for our rights as a couple. We've never felt pressure to marry quickly, before our fellow citizens or their elected representatives voted to take away our right to do so. And, as beneficiaries of unearned privilege tend to do, we've generally taken our good fortune for granted. We've both long supported marriage equality. But it's a big world, with a lot of problems, and our attention has often been elsewhere, like that of many like-minded Americans.

In the wake of California's passage of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative banning the marriage of same-sex couples, a frustrated friend commented that his fellow gays should not expect help from straight people in their fight for equal treatment under the law. His words were haunting, not for their pain, but for their truth: Those who are not directly affected by discrimination rarely oppose it as forcefully as those who favor it fight to keep it in place.

In the short time since, there has been a dramatic increase in support for marriage equality, and polls now show a majority of Americans support the recognition of same-sex marriage. A recent analysis conducted jointly by pollsters who have worked for President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush found an increase in support for marriage equality among "all age levels and among all partisans, including older Americans and Republicans." But politicians haven't evolved as quickly as the public they aspire to lead, perhaps out of fear that the minority who oppose equality feel more strongly than the majority who favor it — though the pollsters found that the intensity gap, too, is a thing of the past.

So marriage equality is within reach, but only if its supporters make clear to their elected representatives that further delay is unacceptable. But why should straight people bother? First, because recognition of same-sex marriage is simply the right thing to do, for the same reason striking down bans on interracial marriage was the right thing to do. America has always been at its best when overcoming old prejudices and reaffirming the belief that we are all created equal. Second, as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote during the greatest civil rights movement in American history, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We should not be in the habit of allowing our government to encroach on the most personal of relationships.

Those reasons may be too abstract for some, so here's another — one of which I am increasingly aware as my own wedding approaches: In granting legal recognition to marriages between men and women, but not to same-sex marriage, the government uses marriage as a tool of oppression and division. It bestows benefits, tangible and otherwise, on those it allows to marry, and denies our gay friends and family those benefits. It uses marriage to tell gays they are different, and inferior. Amid growing concern about the bullying of gay teens, our government bullies them every day by holding up marriage as an ideal — but one that doesn't welcome gays. Straight people whose marriages are a source of love and comfort and support should find it intolerable that their government uses their marriage to marginalize others.

My fiancée and I are proud to wed in a state that won't use our marriage in such a way. We'll be prouder still when we can say the same of the nation we love, so in lieu of gifts we've asked our guests to join us in support of marriage equality. And we ask those of you who support equality to make your voices heard, however you can: Contact your elected representatives. Write letters to your local newspaper. Let your fellow Americans who happen to be gay know that you're with them. This isn't just their fight, it's ours, too.

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