Here in Connecticut, lesbians and gays won a small but significant victory last week. On Friday, the Connecticut Supreme Court narrowly legalized gay marriage in a 4-3 ruling, effectively upgrading from the same-sex civil unions the state first granted in 2005. The ruling marks another step in the path toward LGBT rights across the nation.
On the very day that same-sex couples in Connecticut rejoiced, gay marriage met defeat across the Atlantic. In an overwhelming majority, Portuguese lawmakers rejected two bills to overturn an existing ban on same-sex marriage.
I was delighted by my new right to marry another man right here in New Haven (Battell, maybe?). But the Portuguese case is a reality check. Though gay marriage here in Connecticut will provide the benefits (and the headaches) of a heterosexual union, the contract will still be invalid in 47 other states, not to mention most other countries, including Portugal.
Here in the United States, there’s an obstacle in the way of equality: the Defense of Marriage Act. Twelve years ago — in what feels like a much earlier time — Congress allowed states to ignore any marriages they chose. The law, which was a thinly-veiled attempt to limit full marriage rights from all, still stands, and it still poses a serious threat to national adoption of gay marriage.
What’s more, crucial civil rights advances like gay marriage seem to seek support from a small but powerful institution: the judiciary. Is the savior of equality in the Constitution? I have a hard time believing equal protection principles exclude homosexuals. Dissenters argue against gay marriage by ignoring equal protection altogether, instead focusing on the definition of marriage. And though I respect the belief among some that matrimony is a sacrament, our pluralist society must admit that marriage has changed under secular government.
That marriage’s purpose is to “privilege and regulate procreative conduct,” according to dissenting Justice Peter T. Zarella, is a warped interpretation of reality. Call me new-fashioned, but in our society, marriage has become more of a financial contract (with benefits and burdens) than anything else. After all, how many millions of Americans now have what we once called alternative lifestyles, including divorced parents, step-families, adopted children and children out of wedlock?
We’ve seen that on the state level, most judges so far have noticed the anti-constitutionality of banning gay marriage. But could gay marriage be upheld by popular vote or by lawmakers? Californians will test this risk on Nov. 4, when they vote on Proposition 8, whose title explains it all: “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.”
For gay men and lesbian women alike, marriage, as opposed to civil union or nothing at all, means much more than a mere piece of paper. It is a symbol of equality. It is a validation that we have the same rights as everyone else. It is an assertion that separate-but-equal ended long ago.
But is gay marriage the gay consensus?
Friday’s news sent ripples of glee through Yale’s gay community, but not every gay or lesbian Yalie fantasizes about nuptials. Yale’s gay population is substantial — after all, we proudly bear the moniker of “the gay Ivy.” With such considerable representation, the sexual minority here contains a fair amount of diversity. Queer Yalies are representative of a broad spectrum of gender notions, sexual practices, religious beliefs, activities and political leanings.
That’s why it’s valid to consider gay rejection of heteronormativity and pressures to fit into a hetero mold. These days, straight and gay couples are in the same boat when it comes to the media’s depiction of suburban marital bliss. Not everyone strives for that, regardless of sexual orientation.
But marriage for all, whether wanted or not, is too important to pass up. It’s a commitment between two people. It’s a promise, it’s a contract, and it’s currently a way to discriminate against same-sex couples in 47 states.
I am a gay man, and though I don’t know whether I will ever want to marry, I know I want the right to marry. I neither am involved in gay activism nor feel any pressure to squeeze myself into a heterosexual societal mold. I live on life’s terms, and, like most people, I hope for a brighter future for everyone. There is no room for bigotry, intolerance or hate in my worldview. Like women in the ’20s and blacks in the ’60s, I ask for nothing but inclusion, equality and acceptance. I do.
Stephen Silva is a junior in Calhoun College.