Some of this material was published in
comments sections of various articles in The New York Times. In some
places, I was responding to material written by other commenters.
This is by no means comprehensive; it's random thoughts on a few of the
many important issues involved in the fight for full equality under the
law for LGBTQ citizens. In some cases, these comments were written
in response to different articles, so there is some repetition.
— Marc Sophos
OutCasting, WDFH's LGBTQ youth public radio program
Gay people do not choose to
be gay any more than straight people choose to be straight. If you
are straight, did you choose it? If not, what is your basis for
saying that people "choose" to be gay? Homosexuality is a
naturally occurring variant in the spectrum of sexuality, shown by many
studies to be a relatively constant percentage of populations across
different cultures, across history, and even across species. There
are many cultures, including some Native American tribes, in which gay
people have special, exalted roles. While we may not understand
it, there must be a reason that benefits our species (and others)
explaining why it wasn't "naturally selected" out of existence.
Perhaps it’s a part of a natural system to reduce overpopulation.
Most everyone’s sexual
orientation falls somewhere along a spectrum. While it is not
known exactly what determines exactly where on that spectrum a
particular person's sexual orientation falls, there is plenty of science
showing that sexual orientation is strongly influenced by genetics and
by biological factors (such as the balance of hormones in the womb).
There is no respected science that indicates that it is simply a
"choice." (By the way, religion is a choice.) Sexual orientation
is an immutable characteristic in the same way skin color and eye color
are. It's an orientation, not a preference.
There is one element of
choice, however: the choice to accept one's homosexuality and act on it,
meaning adopt a more or less open gay identity and form
honest friendships and relationships. This is
not to be belittled; having to lie about a core element of one's
identity is excruciatingly painful. Gay children (and they are
everywhere — probably somewhere in your own family) are at greatly
heightened risk of suicide because they often fear rejection by their
families, friends, and society at large. This fear is stoked by
homophobic pronouncements from church and state and uneducated and
unenlightened parents, other family members, and friends. The only
immorality involved is the "choice," such as it is, to deny an essential
element of yourself, and to live a life that is at odds with who you
are. The peace and harmony that occur when you
can be honest with others and not have to constantly be on guard and
edit everything you say, every reaction you have, is a wonderful thing.
Seeing yourself as you are, reflected in those close and honest
friendships and relationships, is tremendously important in getting to
Most of the people who deny
these facts have never had to deal with them directly. The most
direct and reliable evidence on the issue of whether being gay is a
choice is the experience of gay people themselves. There is plenty
of documentation on this issue.
Marriage is not merely a
private contract. There are over 1100 state and federal rights
that are automatically activated when a couple marries. In some
instances, these rights are between the two people, and in these
instances it is theoretically possible for a gay couple to privately
enter into a contract giving them those powers with respect to each
other. But because in most of the country the law does not allow
gay people to get married to the person of their choice, there is a
disparity in that straight couples can get those rights automatically
for the minimal cost of a marriage license, while gay couples must hire
a lawyer to draw up the contract; this can cost thousands of dollars.
This is an example of how the law imposes different burdens on gay
couples compared to straight couples.
In marriage, there are
other state and federal rights bestowed on the couple that are
enforceable outside of the relationship. Such rights include a
right to visit an ill loved one in the hospital (hospitals allow spouses
but nothing forces them to allow gay partners who are not "married"),
and the right to file income taxes jointly. There are many others.
Regardless of whether a gay couple enters into a private contract,
without legal marriage, they have no power to enforce the reality of
their relationship against outside parties, and this is another
Nor is marriage merely a
religious union. Religious organizations have the right to
recognize — and the right not to recognize — any relationships they
choose. I don't believe anyone is seeking to force any religious
organization to perform marriages that go against their beliefs.
The truth is that while many religious organizations do not wish to
"sanctify" gay unions, many others do and have been doing so for years.
But absent the words "by the power vested in me by the State," no
religious marriage has legal consequences in secular society. When
straight couples marry in a church, I have yet to see anybody seek only
a religious recognition of their union: they are there at least as much
to get the legal benefits.
"Marriage" is a term that
has meaning in both religious and civil contexts. It has a depth
of meaning even in the civil context such that the term "civil union" is
second class — in other words, separate but equal, a doctrine that has
long been rejected in our country.
The "sanctity" of marriage
is no business of the government, unless one does not believe in the
United States constitution. What is being advocated is for
marriages between couples of the same sex to have the same legal
recognition as marriages between couples of the opposite sex.
Stated simply, the equal
protection clause of the constitution prohibits the federal government
and the states from treating groups of people differently if they are
similarly situated unless there is ample
justification for the different treatment. There has been
plenty of analysis by many courts and scholars showing that gay people
are singled out for different treatment under the law because they are
gay, not because they are in some other way dissimilarly situated.
The denial of equal rights, including marriage rights, based on the
immutable characteristic of sexual orientation is an unconstitutional
denial of equal protection in violation of the U.S. constitution.
Disregarding the sanctity
issues for a moment, it is true that marriage is under assault, but that
assault is coming from high divorce rates and instant drive-through Las
Vegas weddings. Expanding legal (civil) rights to gay couples does
not in any way devalue the rights already given to straight couples.
Our history has been about expanding rights, not restricting them, and
where the law has grown to give these fundamental rights to gay people,
straight marriages have not suffered as a result. The sun still
rises in the east and sets in the west, and society isn't crumbling.
It's not just about
children. If the sole purpose of marriage were to provide a stable
home for children, then rightfully the law should allow only couples
capable of producing children to marry, and only during the time that
they actually need the legal protections, from conception to the age of
18. Then, according to this line of thought, once the kids hit 18,
the parents would no longer require those protections and the marriage
should be dissolved. Infertile couples should not be allowed to
become or remain married. Women past menopause should not allowed
to become or remain married. People who do not wish to have
children should not be allowed to become or remain married.
Married parents of children should never, under any circumstances, be
allowed to separate or divorce. These are
just some of the many ways to poke holes in the argument about marriage
being for the protection of children.
When gay couples have
children, through adoption or artificial (or sometimes even natural)
insemination, it is because they really, truly want to have children and
have taken very concrete steps to prepare. With straight couples,
pregnancy is often an accident. There is no evidence that gay
couples are worse parents than straight couples and plenty of evidence
that they are at least as good. There is also no evidence that the
children of gay couples are any more likely to be gay (even if that were
bad) than children of straight couples. In many cases, gay couples
may be better parents because they don't have kids by accident. On
the issue of the sexual orientation of the parents influencing the
sexual orientation of their children, it's worth noting that most gay
people grow up in families headed by straight parents.
This is not a "lifestyle"
issue, any more than being straight is a "lifestyle." That belittles
the profound issues involved. As I mentioned earlier, what's
involved in coming out of the closet is a determination to stop lying
about who you are, and to start living a life that is true to yourself.
It's an issue of personal integrity and honesty.
Teaching kids about
diversity — i.e., the way things are, the truth — is not going to turn
them gay. But for the kids who are gay (and many kids know that
there is something "different" about themselves at a very early age — I
knew that when I was three, and that's not uncommon among gay kids),
intolerance breeds self-loathing and often suicidal tendencies. If
it's about "the children," then it's about the gay children as well as
the straight ones. Teaching them about hate may make bigots feel
better but it does untold damage to children. If the kid is
straight, you're teaching him or her to hate others. If the kid is
gay, you're teaching him or her to hate his or her self. Either
way, it's child abuse. Can you be a part of what it takes to break
this ugly cycle?
Tolerance isn't enough.
Do you think it's enough to be "tolerant" of blacks?
Asians? Jews? Catholics? We're a better
country than that. If you don't believe that, perhaps it's time to
expect more of yourself.
There is no moral
equivalence whatsoever between bigotry and being intolerant of bigotry.
If you are bigoted against gay people, recognize that in yourself and
try to make yourself a healthier person; don't think it's equivalent in
any way to gay people or anyone else condemning your bigotry. So
many people can find their own happiness only when they have someone to
hate. That's a pretty pathetic way to live. Can you grow out of
Messages of intolerance and
even hate coming from church and state empower those who would do us
violence. If you advocate discrimination under the law against gay
people, you are saying that we are "less than" straight people, that we
are somehow immoral and bad. If you don't think that Jesse Helms,
Lou Dobson, Donald Wildmon, Dick Armey, powerful religious groups, and
many others who make their living as anti-gay professionals play a major
role in enabling anti-gay violence, such as the murder of Matthew
Shepard, I think you have some soul searching to do.
Anti-gay forces have railed
against "judicial activism" in the realm of extending equal rights to
gays, arguing that these issues should be left to the legislative
process. But the rights of minorities should not exist subject to
the whims of the majority; if that had been the case, the entire civil
rights movement could never have gotten to where it is today. (And
yes, this is very much part of the larger struggle for civil rights in
this country; it is directly analogous to the fight for equal rights for
other minorities.) But since the anti-gay forces have taken a
position that the legislative process is the proper place for this issue
to be dealt with, I hope they will make a public statement now that when
equal marriage rights are extended to gay couples through the
legislative process, they will not challenge it in the courts. (As
if.) Otherwise, they're merely hypocrites.
Some people justify their
anti-gay bigotry by resorting religious teachings or the bible.
Two responses: first, religious teachings or doctrine or the bible or
whatever should not play a role in determining civil law in the U.S.
That is one of the core values in the constitutional requirement of
separation between church and state. Second, the bible prohibits
many things (including touching the skin of a pig and wearing textiles),
and unless you are prepared to live by all of the prohibitions or face
stoning if you don't, you have no leg to stand on.
It is well documented that
many of those who harbor anti-gay prejudice have unresolved issues
themselves. If you are virulently anti-gay, or if you just believe
that our government is justified in singling out gay people for lesser
protection and fewer rights, you would do well to ask yourself why you
feel that way. Don't turn to external sources to justify bigotry
because that's a copout. Being a moral person means, in
significant part, that you take responsibility for making up your own
mind. Even if you don't have unresolved issues with respect to your own
sexuality, what in yourself drives you toward these feelings? Can
you work through it to become a better, happier person? If not,
One commenter says that
homosexuality was removed from the DSM because of "political activity."
There's an element of truth here in that gay people were
among those pressing to have it removed,
along with many presumably straight mental health professionals.
But the basis for including it in the first place was that the
psychological/medical/psychiatric evidence was based on gay people
who were being treated for mental or emotional issues — focusing on
supposed pathologies in a self-selected small
sample of gay people who were seeking
treatment for their own problems. In other
words, the evidence until then entirely ignored the vast majority
of relatively well adjusted gay people who
were not in treatment at all. And in most cases where there are
emotional problems, they're not brought on by homosexuality itself;
they're brought on by internalizing the hateful lies spewed by society.
Internalized homophobia in gay people is very well documented.
We do not demand the word
marriage for the sake of “political correctness.” The word is
written into thousands of laws all over the country. Using another
word to describe same-sex unions would mean that such unions are not
covered by all those laws. As a practical matter, we will never
see the day in which all of those laws are re-written to specify “civil
union” instead of “marriage.” To be treated
equally under the law, the necessary legal term is marriage.
For all those who say we’re
just in it for the financial benefits
and legal protections: If you’re so quick to dismiss the
importance of those benefits and protections,
then you should be first in line to give them up yourself. If
you’re married (legally), get a legal divorce
and then have a purely religious ceremony. You will be married in
the eyes of your church but not in the eyes of the law.
Is that sufficient for you? If not, why would
you assume it is sufficient for us?
For those who say marriage
is necessary to promote procreation, are you seriously contending that
giving legal protection to committed relationships that already exist
anyway is going to threaten our survival as a
species? Our overpopulated planet is evidence of the silliness of
this position. Really — do you
really think that growning
acceptance of same-sex marriages will
all of a sudden cause all sorts of previously
straight people to going to say “let’s try
this new thing” in such overwhelming numbers that the species will go
extinct? Are you possibly being serious?
kind of evidence would you accept that it’s not a choice?
The life experiences of gay people is the most definitive evidence
available. Ask yourself, if you’re straight: could you choose to
become gay? Why not?
Some commenters say that if
we allow marriage equality, we’re opening the door to polygamy, incest,
and “man-on-dog sex” (thanks, Rick Santorum).
This slippery slope argument is an intellectually dishonest or just
plain lazy way to avoid critical analysis. There may or may not be
common issues, but either way, each issue deserves its own debate on its
Gender identity (the “T” in
LGBT) is separate from sexual orientation, though the issues faced by
transgender people have a level of commonality with issues faced by LGB
people and should be part of the same fight for equality under the law.
The marriage equality
movement as it pertains to bisexuals is not to permit bisexuals to be
married to two people of different genders at the same time. That
would be called polygamy, and that’s not what the marriage equality
movement is about. For bisexuals, it would mean the freedom to
marry a single beloved person of his or her choice without regard to
that person’s sex.
“With liberty and justice
for all.” What part of that don’t the anti-LGBT commenters understand?
And how can any of these anti-LGBTQ arguments possibly be consistent
with the concept of "small government," if you're one of the people who
buy into that concept?
As for "states' rights"
(the argument put forth by many who oppose marriage equality, to the
effect that the states should be free to define marriage themselves
without the federal government's intervention):
The federal constitution establishes
standards of fairness — due process, right to
counsel, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and equal
protection, among other things.
States are free to craft their own solutions
to issues, but these solutions can't violate the standards of fairness
established by the federal constitution. Before
1967, Virginia law excluded interracial couples from the right to marry.
The Supreme Court
rightly determined that that law violated the federal constitution's
requirements of fairness, and the law was overturned.
The meaning of simple terms like equal protection as applied to
specific situations is what constitutional litigation is all about.
In the end, the states may regulate marriage
according to their own policies, but they may not do so in a way that
denies people their rights to be treated fairly and equally by the law
under the federal constitution.
In the aptly named Loving case, the Court also stated
that marriage was a "fundamental right." Laws that infringe on
fundamental rights are constitutionally suspect under an equal
Second: The word "marriage" appears in
countless laws at all levels of government all over the U.S.
Even assuming the best of intentions, as a
practical matter it would be virtually impossible to amend every one of
those laws to use a different term. And we certainly can't assume the
best of intentions everywhere. The word is
used in a legal, not religious, context in the law.
Third: Marriage isn't simply a contract
between two people. It's a legal status that
is enforceable against outside parties. We
can't just create a contract to get the same rights.
Contracts cannot bind outside parties. Marriage is a legal status
conferred on the couple by the state, a status that can bind outside
(Regarding the supposed pro-gay bias of a gay judicial nominee rejected
by Virginia's Republican controlled House): Why don't we
ever hear about the biases of heterosexual nominees?
Is it OK for a straight nominee to have a bias but not OK for a
gay nominee? If certain people are going to
presume that a gay nominee can't be impartial, how can we trust that a
straight one can be? I think we're all aware
that Mr. Justice Scalia and others have quite
a bit of antigay bias. Do we really expect
him and his ilk to be "impartial" when a gay marriage case comes before
Somehow, the issue rarely gets framed that way.
wonderful books on some of these issues are:
God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage, by Gene
Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson was
the first openly gay man consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal
Church, an event that preceded a split in the church. He was a
guest on WDFH's LGBTQ youth program
Why Marriage Matters, by Evan Wolfson.
Patronize your local library or bookstore, if possible.