I don’t think I can do justice to this question because I am so tired of arguing about gay civil rights. I am sick to death of discrimination. I feel discouraged on this day, and on most days, about our chances of ever being treated like human beings deserving of the same rights as all other human beings. I live in Northern California which probably has the largest LGBT community anywhere in the country. Within the larger gay community exists a, primarily, supportive straight community – but still I feel alone. I have been called upon, in this blog and in countless other places, by gay friends and straight strangers to defend my position on this issue.
I have been told gay marriage is not a civil right. I have been accused of undermining Obama’s chances for success by demanding he pay more attention to the needs of my community. I have been informed in no uncertain terms that Harvey Milk does not have as much right as the California Poppy to a day of recognition. I’ve been reminded of civil unions, legal contracts and domestic partnerships that exist to protect me. I have been told that there are bigger issues on the national agenda than gay marriage. How can I argue with that? Even more than gay marriage I want our children safely home from Iraq and Afghanistan, I want everyone to have equal access to health care. I want people to stop starving in the streets and be able to claim the right to a decent education. Life itself has more value than any single civil right. Doesn’t it?
Except for one little thing… sometimes civil rights do come down to life itself. 10 years ago today a beautiful boy named Matthew Shepard died for the sole reason that he was gay. He was a victim of a vicious hate crime and his life ended because he was gay. Did you hear that? He is dead because he was gay. As long as any law or custom in this land upholds the unequal treatment of gay, lesbian, queer or transgendered people we are all in danger. We are in danger of becoming victims of crimes both large and small. We will feel the snubs that humiliate and isolate us. We will be exposed to the very real danger of violence and death. And we will experience every bit of hateful discrimination in between those two extremes.
If Proposition 8 is defeated in California, it’s not the end of the story. I won’t wrap myself in a rainbow flag, cheer for my victory, and ride off happily into the sunset. I will be overjoyed, but I know it is just one small step towards ensuring we live in a country where every human life is accorded the same respect and legal protection. I believe a blinding light of (dare I say it) love needs to shine into every hateful dark little corner of this country to expose the indignity and suffering the queer community lives with. Legalizing gay marriage is a ray in that beam of light. It is an affirmation that separate is never equal. And even though it is not the end of the struggle, it is important because in a world where gay humans are not treated differently Matthew Shephard would still be alive.
My love and support go out to Matthew Shepard’s family today. I hope that each little step we take towards equality makes this world a safer place for us all.
There are a lot of videos on the Internet that honor Matthew Shephard’s life. I chose this one because Dennis Shephard showed such incredible dignity and respect… I admire him enormously.