Originally Published as an Open Letter
Hello friends and family,
You probably have heard by now that the Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. I personally applaud the court’s decision; I know some of you do not. I’m just asking you to be prepared for what is coming next, which is an enormous backlash against equal rights advances for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
Ultra-conservative religious groups are using this issue to scare people and raise millions of dollars to advance their agenda. I ask you to keep an open mind and consider what life would be like in a country ruled by Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, and remember that you have at least one friend or family member that is directly on the front line of this war. If they succeed in passing their Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage it will be the first time in American history that a class of people has been directly singled out for discrimination in the United States Constitution. The fact that you are receiving this e-mail means that you know me and that you matter to me.
As you watch the news and political debate concerning same-sex marriage that unfolds during the months (and most probably years) ahead, please filter what you see and hear with the knowledge that I and millions like me just want to live the lives we were born to, treated equally and without government interference.
For the life of me I don’t see how my wanting to be married to the person I am in love with is going to degrade marriage. Approximately 50% of the marriages in this country currently end in divorce. My marrying another man is not going to change the success or failure of heterosexual marriages. It is okay for people who don’t even know each other to meet on a network television show and marry. It is perfectly acceptable for Britney Spears and her childhood friend, Jason Allen Alexander, to “take a joke too far” and “do something wild and crazy” by getting married at the Little White Wedding Chapel on the Strip in Las Vegas and then file for an annulment two days later. But for me to receive legal privileges afforded through marriage by formally cementing the love I have for my partner is considered detrimental to the institution of marriage.
Why are such legal protections necessary? If my partner is hurt I have no legal right to direct his medical care or even visit him in a hospital’s intensive care unit. We have recently purchased a condominium. If he dies before me it is quite possible that his family could come and wipe out everything that we own. If I die first he is not entitled to my social security (even though I have paid in as much as a heterosexual employee). If my partner were a foreign national there would be no way for me to keep him in the United States. If he was a she we could marry and a Green Card would be easily obtained. Certainly expensive legal documents can be prepared but there are no guarantees that they will be followed. All told there are some 1,049 privileges that we are being denied because by granting us the right to legalize our relationship we would be destroying the institution of marriage.
Turning the approval of same-sex marriage into a state-by-state issue is absurd. Encouraging individual states to formulate their own laws on this issue is an easy stance for politicians to take as a means of sidestepping the issue of same-sex marriage. Every state in the union recognizes heterosexual marriages performed in any other state. Furthermore, Federal Income Taxation, Immigration Policy and Social Security are all Federal matters. If I were to legally marry my partner in one state and to travel to a state that didn’t recognize our marriage there could be dire consequences if one of us were to be faced with a medical emergency. The healthy spouse would be legally barred from making medical decisions for spouse in crisis. Would you find such a consequence acceptable for your spouse? An analogy would be driving your car from the state where you insured your car cross country through some states where your insurance was in force and some where it was not.
It is unlikely that a case where one state fails to recognize a same-sex marriage from another legally performed in another state will hold up before the US Supreme Court because of the concept of reciprocity within the US Constitution and its Amendments. Religious and political conservatives know this and are strongly pushing for a US Constitutional Amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Certainly, religious institutions have the right to marry or not marry those whom they choose. But that doesn’t mean that they should have the power to control the rights of those whom seek a civil marriage or a marriage performed by a faith that has no problem with same-sex couples legalizing their devotion to each other.
Some say that we should not be afforded civil liberties because they believe that sexual orientation is a choice. New scientific evidence is frequently being published to the contrary. Even so there is no argument that religious preference is definitely a choice and most Americans would fight to the death to protect freedom of religion. Many people are uncomfortable with homosexuality but that discomfort should not result in continued discrimination.
Most of you know me well and appreciate that I find religious fundamentalists to be a source of grave discomfort and against everything for which I stand. However, the fundamentalists are entitled to their religious views and they should have the right to live their lives according to their beliefs (as absurd as those of us that aren’t fundamentalists might find said beliefs to be). I draw the line when others infringe on my right to live my life in a way that I choose (as long as I don’t infringe on their personal lives). As much as I find it silly that some faiths ban dancing, using electricity, interfaith marriages or using horseless carriages, if others choose to live their lives with such beliefs, so be it. Just don’t force me to live under the same beliefs and associated rules.
When it comes to civil rights it often takes time for the many to realize when a minority differing from them is being treated unfairly. I think that the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community has made tremendous inroads when it comes to Americans realizing the impact on us of hate crimes and job discrimination. Marriage will take a bit longer to digest. However, minority groups rarely pick the issues for which they need to take a stand. More often, such issues pick us. Same-sex marriage is such a situation where the issue has picked us. Because of the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling forcing the Massachusetts State Legislature to develop a fair and equitable means for gays and lesbians to enjoy the same legal benefits as straight couples, the hue and cry throughout the entire nation against same-sex marriage will grow loud and ugly.
I have been most fortunate in finding the most amazing man as my life partner. Our being unable to legally marry in this state or country will not change our love and commitment towards each other but it will impact our lives. We plan to legally marry in Canada. Both Ontario and British Columbia currently marry same-sex couples (even from another country). Though our marriage won’t be recognized in Texas or in the USA, we will know that ours is a marriage that was performed legally and recognized by a government more understanding than our own. More and more countries are moving in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage. The United States is lagging behind much of the industrialized West.
Stay tuned to the on-going debate and religious name-calling. And as you do so, know that it is having a deep impact on the life of somebody that you care about. Same-sex marriage is going to be turned into a huge issue in the 2004 political elections with the Republicans adopting national and local platforms against us. Fundamentalist religious organizations and the Republican Party are garnering political clout and funding by playing the “Gay Card.” I am concerned that Democrats will run from this issue so as not to focus the selection of political officeholders on the issue of Same-sex marriage. The next few years will be tough for us.
This won’t be the first time in history that a minority has been used as scapegoats for the many problems facing a society. My father and his parents fled Nazi Germany in 1935 and avoided the concentration camps by doing so. How easy it is for those in power to play on the misunderstanding and fears of gays, lesbians and bisexuals rather than tackle the real problems facing our country.
Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to read this. For those of you whom agree with me, thanks your support.
John R. Selig
First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me. — Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945
For GLBT people to gain rights, we must be out to those we know and love. We will not win this war alone. Studies show that people who know gay people are far more supportive of granting us civil rights than those who don’t know gay folks. I challenge GLBT readers of this letter to send it or one like it to family members, friends, co-workers and others who know you. It is far harder to hate somebody that you know and love than it is to be fearful of and to hate a stereotype!