It is right to be concerned about major shifts in social ideology. Gay marriage is one of those major shifts. It is seen by many in and out of the LGBTQ community as an acid test for the future of America. Historically we see a wide range of predictions published when significant social issues are debated in the public arena. This is no less true with gay marriage. From the apocalyptic naysaying of religious fundamentalists to the less strident, but no better informed, musings of fence sitters, we have been bombarded with answers to the question: What impact will gay marriage have on America?
The opinion of U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker in the Proposition 8 case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, does a great job of outlining the popular concerns of the anti-gay marriage camps:
- Children of gay unions would suffer undue social and economic hardships.
- Community exposure to gay marriage would entice otherwise heterosexual youth to homosexuality.
- Gay marriage would undermine the stability of heterosexual marriage.
- Children of gay parents would be exposed to sexual abuse.
- Gay marriage will expose the general population to deadly diseases such as AIDS.
A scan of news sites online provide a humorous overview of the divine consequences touted by too many in the religious community. Catastrophic meteor strikes, earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding, famine and drought will quickly follow if SCOTUS misjudges this historical question.
But in the quiet of the night, away from the sound and the fury, when our social radar has been shut off for the day, what does our inner voice tell us?
There are no legitimate negative consequences to providing marriage equality to the LGBTQ community. Unless you consider that we will at some point have to confront our conscience for this historical injustice. How do I know this? Well first of all, I live in Canada where marriage rights have been extended to same sex couples, nationwide since July 20, 2005. Canada was the first country outside of Europe to make this decision. A decision that was just as fraught with claims of doom by the gaggling gathering of gay-bashers in Canada. Now, 10 years into it, we can speak with some confidence about the real impact of gay marriage in a country.
Hillary Clinton, in her historic speech to the United Nations on gay rights, pointed out that
progress comes from changes in laws. In many places... legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And, practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.
Such has been the case in Canada. Recently, the strongly conservative Canadian province of Alberta passed Bill 10 which requires schools to allow Gay Straight Alliance clubs to be created in all high schools, including the publicly-funded Catholic schools, if they are requested by students. This is an example of the weakening social mentality that gay is bad, gay is wrong. It doesn't all go away at once, but we're a long way down that road in Canada. We more readily accept and respond to the needs of the gay community as they move closer to absolute equality.
This will be the real impact of gay marriage in America. When SCOTUS breaks the back of gay bias, the long road of healing will begin. Floods will come, earthquakes will go and life will go on. Hell, we will even be struck by a few meteorites, but that will be an irrelevant aside to this issue. Meanwhile young people will be taught tolerance. Anti-gay sentiment will slowly dissipate as society shifts in their mentality. The subconscious messages will change. "Faggot" will be the new "N" word. Thoughtless anti-gay comments will be frowned on. New messages will emerge and be nurtured, messages of justice and equality for LGBTQ citizens.
Young gay children will wake up to the warm sunshine of inclusion and acceptance. They will learn to feel a little less different, a little less wrong. Struggles will continue, we will lose a few more precious lives because, sadly, change doesn't happen overnight. But this is the right path. This is the just path to a time and place where sexual orientation will be irrelevant. On that day America will look a little more like that City on a Hill our founding fathers imagined.