Gay Marriage: The View from Post-Everything America

My wife and I, a heterosexual couple, are both "peach-colored," according to our 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Her best friend from Brooklyn, where we used to live, has two Mommies, a peach-colored same-sex couple. These two Mommies got married in Massachusetts because New York recognizes same-sex marriages from that state. These women have been a couple for 20 years, have two kids. They are in love, they're partners, they're great parents.

Meanwhile, here in New Jersey, where we moved, our daughter has a friend who has two Mommies -- one African-American and one white, a mixed-race same-sex couple. Their daughter is African-American, or as our daughter says, "brown." They're a great couple, community people, one of them (the peach-colored one if you care) is a social worker in the rough ghetto town of Irvington.

There's a family we've met here in town who have an adopted "brown" son. The parents are two "peach-colored" Daddies. One of the peach-colored Daddies is not a U.S. citizen and would love to be able to settle here, work here freely and raise his son here, but of course New Jersey, unlike neighboring New York (35 minutes on the commuter train) won't recognize a same-sex marriage performed in Massachusetts.

Are you beginning to get my point? I live in 2008, in Barack Obama's America. It is a post-everything world -- but the laws of the land haven't caught up with the people. All the characters in this little intro worked hard to get Obama elected. All the characters in this story are hard-working people, strong parents, loving and kind members of their communities. How ridiculous is it that our Brooklyn friends went out of state to get married but are recognized as married by their state, which won't let them get married, while our New Jersey lesbian friends can't be recognized and our New Jersey gay male Canadian guy can't get a green card ecause he lives one state away from New York and two states away from Connecticut?

So, this is the good old states' rights world we're supposed to get misty-eyed for. Oh, the good old days when black folks were slaves a mile down the road but free here, and the borders were all fuzzy and dangerous.

I have been accused elsewhere of "scapegoating" the Black community in Californina for the passage of Prop 8. And I've been accused of drawing a false equivalency between the struggles of Black Americans for civil rights and the struggles of the LGBT community for gay marriage. (See the comments section of the linked post.)

Let me respond simply: THIS IS NOT A COMPETITION. Remember the desultory arguments between Jews and blacks about which was worse, the Holocaust or Slavery? Please. This just in: Oppression is bad. And the point I want Barack Obama to make is this: in America, the story of progress is the story of more and more people coming under the full shelter of the increasingly big tent that is the Constitution. A wealthy gay couple doesn't have to have the scars of a sharecropper to deserve civil rights. And an African American who voted for Prop 8 does not now deserve to have N-bombs rained down on him by frustrated gay activists. Civil rights is not a zero sum game. The struggle for civil rights is universal.

Hey, my Dad was a straight white guy like me. In 1949 he was on the Board of the Radio Writers Guild, and he co-authored a proposal that the Guild should publicly fight blacklisting of its members by the red-baiting groups AWARE and Red Channels, both part of the McCarthy era witch hunts. The proposal was put to the membership and passed overwhelmingly, making the Radio Writers Guild the only union with the spine to stand up formally to the blacklist. Guess what? no more work for my dad for a while. And he refused to clear his name by naming other names -- which in those days was the only way to get yourself "exonerated."

He happened not to be a Communist, or even a member of any Socialist front groups. He was an FDR Democrat and a believer in the words of the Constitution. But his civil liberties were denied to him too. He lost his livelihood for a decade, more or less. (Maybe if he'd had the Internet back then, all of McCarthy's cronies would have been as quickly exposed as morons as was Michele Bachmann this year, but forget you not that 64 percent of our Republican friends would like to see Sarah Palin run for President. Two steps forward, one step back.)

The point is: if we are going to make our politics look more like our gloriously diverse country, we need to stop viewing civil rights as a Black thing, or a woman thing. It's everybody's thing, all of our struggle -- and right now the cutting edge of that struggle is gay marriage. I would like my daughter and all her friends to grow up without insecurity about whether their parents will be able to stay together, be forced to move to be a couple, share benefits and property rights, and be treated with equal respect as people making families. Obama doesn't have to try to risk all his political capital on this. He just needs to help create a climate where people can see clearly that gay rights are civil rights.