The right eloquence needs no bell to call the people together and no constable to keep them. ~ Emerson

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No Bones About It

A study, published by archeologists in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details a 4,600-year-old stone-age burial in central Germany, at Eulau Saxony-Anhalt. Several graves were unearthed, whose occupants appeared to be victims of a massacre. Carefully arranged in groups, the dead consisted of adults and children, buried facing each other. DNA testing subsequently proved them sets of parents and children.

The find excited scientists because it established the oldest known example of classic nuclear families. “Their unity in death suggests unity in life,” a researcher explained.

One grave was different from the others. Rather than two adults, it contained only one – a woman – and two children. DNA testing revealed the children were siblings but shared no maternal relation to the woman. Researchers speculate she may have been a paternal aunt, stepmother, or other form of caregiver. Their burial reflected the same care and reverence as that afforded the other graves.

The story left me struck by how even stone-age human beings instinctively understood the validity of alternative households. A single mother raising two adopted children was as much a “family” to this particular tribe as a mother and father with their biological offspring.

It demonstrates the inevitable future for full gay and lesbian rights in this country despite the much-publicized passage of Proposition 8 in California. This legislation modified the state constitution with language limiting the definition of “marriage” as between a man and a woman. It appeared on the ballot following a California Supreme Court ruling that the constitution permitted gay marriage as it stood.

Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage also passed two weeks ago in Arizona and Florida, while Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents. To date, thirty states adopted constitutional amendments along these lines. A handful of states allow civil unions or domestic partnerships for gays that grant some of the same legal rights as marriage.

Although their numbers slowly continue to shrink, a majority of Americans remain profoundly uncomfortable with the concept of gay marriage. Some object because they believe homosexuality is a sin on religious/moral grounds. Others fear expanding its definition to include gays will undermine the traditional institution of marriage. Surveys consistently show that many who oppose gay marriage are not hostile to the idea of equal rights for homosexuals in general.

The current state of legal affairs in this country regarding gay rights is a disheartening one but it will not last. Those who voted for gay marriage bans across this country may hunker down in perceived unassailability for now but a storm is building that will eventually disintegrate their carefully constructed bulwarks. Their fear is genuine but it is also groundless.

Not only has the “glass ceiling” already been cracked on this issue but actual holes also punched through it. Those attempting to board them back up are accomplishing nothing but keeping out the fresh air and sunlight for everybody.

Gay marriage is inevitable because the legal structures preventing it are only man-made structures, subject to tearing down and revision, even if they carry the full strength of law today. Voters adopt gay marriage bans precisely because voters know their state constitutions, based on justice and equality, will otherwise permit the thing they fear.

Their solutions do not really revise those constitutions so much as graft on a structure that is fundamentally in opposition to the rest of the superstructure. A house divided cannot stand. It may take decades but, just like Prohibition and the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, these state amendments will be appealed one by one.

Some churches have already accepted the principle of gay marriage and, even if they have not, they understand that banning it legally represents a dangerous precedent.

The interfaith California Council of Churches and the Episcopal bishops of Northern California and Los Angeles added their voices to those calling for the invalidation of Proposition 8. They argue permitting voters to take away rights from a group based on sexual orientation could allow the same to happen to religious minorities.

Even the Mormon Church, which did so much to support Proposition 8, particularly in the form of campaign contributions, is making the first signs that it might accept civil unions or domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians.

Mostly, however, gay marriage bans are doomed to fail because of the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who were married in California between the state Supreme Court ruling and the passage of Proposition 8. “I just found out that my state doesn't really think I'm a person,” said an indignant Rose Aplustill, a gay Boston University student from Los Osos California. “We are the American family, we live next door to you, we teach your children, we take care of your elderly,” added Heather Baker, a gay special education teacher from Boston.

Even in the wake of Proposition 8, Connecticut just joined Massachusetts as the second state to legally recognize gay marriage. Connecticut has provided full legal rights for gay unions since 2005 and issued over two thousand civil union licenses during the past three years. Nonetheless, many gay couples returned to Connecticut city halls this past week to get married.

“It felt gritty to be in a separate line,” explains Barbara Levine-Ritterman, who was first in line to marry her lesbian partner. “It's thrilling today. We are all in one line for one form. Love is love and the state recognizes it.”

Once people feel the acceptance, dignity, and self-worth of standing in the same line as everybody else, they will never go back to an “Only” line. Whether the line is marked “Blacks Only” or “Gays Only,” the principle remains the same.

This is why I chuckle at the likes of the deluded, such as Frank Schubert, co-manager of the Yes on 8 campaign in California. “[Gays] had everything in the world going for them this year and they couldn't win,” he says. “I don't think they're going to be any more successful in 2010 or 2012.”

He may be right about the immediate future but he should be sure that gays will be back in 2010 and 2012 and the election after that and the election after that and the election after that, until they are successful. And they will be successful. This election was simply the best environment homosexuals had so far. It will only become progressively harder in the future to deny them.

The hatred and fear of homophobia is destined for the grave. An ancient grave in Germany holds all the proof that I will never need on this subject. The barriers to recognizing full rights for gays are man-made constructs. They will ultimately fall before the basic decency in human beings that recognizes a family is defined not by the makeup of its members but rather by the affection and devotion they manifest for each other through their choices and their actions.

Just as all the evidence indicates that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition, so acceptance lies in our genes as well.

No bones about it.

1 comment:

Bite oftheweek said...

Hi Bell

Wonderful post.

Wish we could post Inkberrow's and Thelyamhound's responses here, also.