On this 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, I was already pondering the place of the LBTGQ community in our society when the news broke of CNBC “outing” Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple Inc. It was a painful reminder that, despite significant gains in recent years, there is still a perception problem regarding people’s sexual orientation or self-identification.
It leads to a segment of our society that is still marginalized and unable to participate openly as themselves.
Further evidence of this marginalization is in the national debate surrounding marriage equality. Opponents of gay marriage make various claims regarding its potential to erode society’s moral code and threaten traditional marriage. These claims ignore the ever-increasing divorce rate and the numbers of children born outside of marriage, phenomena that are not influenced one iota by whether gay partners can marry.
Opponents of marriage equality will sometimes be generous and offer gay couples the right to a “civil union” or other legal structure that they say is “just as good” as marriage. This is very similar to the discredited doctrine of “separate but equal” that was in fact separate but was quite unequal. This puts the lie to claims that marriage equality is not a civil rights issue. I state most emphatically that marriage equality is a civil rights issue that is fundamental to full participation by all members of our society.
Marriage is a civil contract that confers rights and responsibilities to each partner in a way that is clearly understood by society’s institutions. Creation of a “just as good” alternative increases the complexity of society’s structures and leaves room for ambiguity with regard to people’s status. This has serious implications with respect to taxation, medical decisions, estate planning and a raft of other issues. If we concede that the state has the right or duty to regulate marriage, we must not confer to the state a further right to limit access to marriage to an estimated 90 to 95 percent of the population. “Miscegenation” laws have rightly been struck down, and it is the law of the land that interracial couples may marry. It is my fond hope that in a few short years, the tide that is leading state after state to legalize gay marriage will rise so high that marriage equality is the law of the land.
Perceptions will take longer to change, but again there is a demographic tide that cannot be stopped. Young people are more accepting of diverse orientations than their forebears and there is no sign of that acceptance being reversed. One day, there will be a major corporation that appoints a CEO who is married to a same-sex partner. It will be front-page news. Other corporations will follow until one day it is no longer newsworthy. That will be the day that the people who rioted in protest of police harassment inside and outside the Stonewall Inn for the mere fact of their being gay will be able to declare victory. That will be the day that all Americans will be able to say proudly that we have drawn closer to the ideal that Thomas Jefferson expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.”
• Ken Mason works in finance for a government entity. He and his wife have resided in Ahwatukee since 2005.