There she was, an unexpected guest braving the cold drizzle and gusty wind on the steps at Cincinnati City Hall in a show of solidarity on a gloomy autumn Saturday afternoon.
In town for a performance later that night, comedian Margaret Cho strummed her guitar and sang a tune she’d written to entertain those who showed up downtown Nov. 15 to protest the passage of Proposition 8 in California. The event was one of numerous protests staged nationwide that day to draw attention to efforts to overturn equal marriage rights in the few states where they exist. (See photos from the protest here.)
Estimates differed, but observers agreed that at least 200 people attended. Not bad, given the nasty weather and Cincinnati’s iffy history of supporting its GLBT community.
Initially overshadowed by Barack Obama’s historic victory and the Democratic sweep of Congress on Election Night, Prop 8’s passage was a reminder that progress in civil rights and social justice always comes in fits and spurts. Two steps forward, one step back.
Even so, Prop 8 was narrowly approved by just more than 500,000 votes out of 12 million ballots cast — and even then only with massive amounts of cash pumped in by out-of-state groups like Focus on the Family and the Mormon Church, designed to scare people with outlandish tales of “what could happen next” if marriage of same-sex couples was allowed to stand
Well, here’s what could happen next: Some couples would marry and live happily ever after, more or less. Some would cheat on each other. And some would grow apart and divorce. Gay or straight, there are no guarantees where the human heart is concerned.
What wouldn’t happen are marriages involving bestiality or polygamy, as the most hardcore conservatives fret about. There also wouldn’t be a mass effort to recruit unsuspecting straight people into the gay lifestyle, which seems to be the underlying fear of many equal marriage opponents.
Let’s face the truth: If your son or daughter or brother or sister is gay, a change in their legal options isn’t going to sway their sexual orientation or what gets them hot. What it might do, however, is make their lives a little easier.
Although I’m not always a fan of his overheated rhetoric, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann might have said it best in a six-minute editorial he delivered about Prop 8.
“I keep hearing this term ‘redefining’ marriage,” he said. “If this country hadn’t redefined marriage, black people still couldn’t marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967. 1967. The parents of the president-elect of the United States couldn’t have married in nearly one-third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead.”
Yes, marriage has its historic roots as a religious ceremony. Another answer to the dispute over equal marriage is that perhaps governments should get out of the marriage business altogether.
From government’s perspective, marriage is merely a legal contract between two consenting adults. Perhaps all couples — straight or gay — should be required to undergo civil unions to get the legal protections bestowed by traditional marriage. Governments wouldn’t recognize any marriage, only civil unions.
Couples could then, if they choose, take the additional step of getting married in a church of their selection if they wanted to make some sort of symbolic statement of a covenant before God.
One thing’s for certain: The U.S. Constitution provides equal protection under the law. Perhaps we need to learn once again that “separate but equal” isn’t acceptable.
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