In the 1980s the issue of legalized same-sex marriage as an achievable political goal was not even a blip on anyone's radar. Of course it was the AIDS crisis that took all our energy up at the time: it's hard to think about advancing politically as a community when so many of you are faced with imminent death.
If that sounds at all overly dramatic it just means you are likely too young to have lived through it. That's OK. Many of us did not live through it either, including a sizable number of friends of mine and my partner: himself dead of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 38. Since the two of us were not exactly the conforming type we never fantasized about anything like marriage. We would have never gone that route even if it had been available except and until we were faced with the trauma of death and survivorship as a same-sex couple in America.
As difficult as it would have been had it played out on American soil, our situation was made all the worse for his having died suddenly (in a matter of weeks) while we were an American couple touring the country of Spain. Had our relationship been legally recognized anywhere it would have surly been less complicated to deal with the Spanish officials, the American consulate and the international issues surrounding his sudden collapse and death. Even after 17 years together I was pretty much a non-entity to all of them all and had to beg and kick and scream, humiliating myself in order to exercise my family rights which would have been assumed had we been legalized.
It was not so long ago that the focus of the LGBT community seemed to be divided between a desperate activism in the cause of basic survival and a much more common attitude of assimilationist denial and/or regression into "down-low" sexual attitudes and practices that are just barely less guilt-ridden that life in the closet. In 1992, with the AIDS crisis still raging, the big gay issue grabbing the attention of the general public and inflaming right-wing outrage was Gays in the Military. Even fewer of us really cared about than we did about the impossibly far-off issue of legalized marriage.
What a difference a decade and a half can make.
After years of frustrating defeats and political setbacks on issues that were never even on our agenda until 2003, and after the crushing disappointment of Proposition 8 just six months ago, it may suddenly seem like things are happening too fast and too much in our favor to be real. In just one remarkable week in 2009 the formerly solid, ages-old walls of prejudice and ignorance did more than crumble, They were blown to smithereens in two states on opposite ends of the American spectrum!
Wherever you stand on the issue of marriage, the decisions in Iowa and Vermont that struck down the bans on same-sex marriage may be the most important legal rulings for us as LGBT Americans since the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision that struck down all remaining US sodomy laws in 2003.
The Iowa decision is important because it is the first time that marriage rights have been upheld on the basis of an Equal Protection provision in a state's Constitution which portends a potential future argument before the US Supreme Court and could do the same for marriage restrictions as Lawrence did for anti-sodomy laws. If that happens it will be a momentous recognition of the equality of LGBT citizens that reaches far beyond the narrow right to marry. The Iowa decision was also the first time that a state Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in our favor.
The Vermont decision is important, of course, because it is the first time that a state ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by an act of the legislature rather than by a court ruling. And the bill that passed made it by a veto-proof majority.
In order to challenge either state's laws opponents of same-sex marriage will have to resort to unprecedented legal and political measures that would just betray the absurdity of their intentions. With the state of the world today - and where do you start to click off the problems we face? - how could it be worth so much to any rational group of people to pour so much time, energy and money into depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry?
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