This is the third in a series that has thus far included Why the Left is Right on... The Death Penalty, and Why the Left is Right on... Abortion. In it I will explore the status of gay rights, as well as the reasons that I feel that the left is right when it comes to teh gheyz (of which I am one - full disclosure). This diary will not explore the argument of marriage versus civil unions - though there are very valid points one could make on the subject, it is simply not the focus of this entry.
In 1610, the Colony of Virginia enacted our nation's very first anti-sodomy law:
No man shall commit the horrible and detestable sins of sodomy, upon pain of death; and he or she that can be lawfully convict of adultery shall be punished with death. No man shall ravish or force any woman, maid or Indian, or other, upon pain of death; and know that he or she that shall commit fornication, and evident proof made thereof, for their first fault shall be whipped, for their second they shall be whipped, and for their third they shall be whipped three times a week for one month and ask public forgiveness in the assembly of the congregation.
As you can see, the crime was immediately associated with other 'perverse' sins including adultery, rape, and extramarital coitus, and all were given the rather drastic punishment of death. Though Virginia was the first colony to enact such legislation, it was not to be the last. In fact, it was not until 1786 that the death penalty was removed as a potential punishment for sodomy by the state of Pennsylvania, though it was still considered a very serious crime.
Since those early days, things have improved considerably for homosexuals in the United States, though some would argue that there is a lot of room for growth even still. Though there is more to 'gay rights' than simply the right to marriage or civil unions, this issue has come to dominate the national debate - and perhaps rightly so. So many heterosexuals, married or single, take for granted the enormous number of rights and privileges that a couple is entitled to as a result of a state-recognized coupling, and the lack of such recognition causes a great deal of undue hardship and trauma, simply in the name of bigotry.
One of the reasons that I will never vote for John McCain, even if Nader, Obama, and Bob Barr all announce that they are Satan incarnated in three avatars, is because the 'principled' 'maverick' once said that gay adoption is "not appropriate."
And he's supposedly the middle-of-the-road moderate, amenable-to-independents Straight Talk Express Republican, though we all know he puts the 'O' in GOP. Some states allow same-sex couples to adopt, though many have enacted specific laws forbidding it, despite the fact that innumerable children are left uncared for in foster homes and government facilities, and despite the fact that uncountable studies have proven time and time again that having gay parents is not, of itself, an experience more 'traumatic' than living in the custody of the state for your entire juvenile life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study debunking virtually all of the myths associated with gay parenting. It shows conclusively that gays are not unfit to parent, that children of gay parents do not themselves 'turn' gay, and that gay parents do not love their children any less of any differently than any other parent would. In the face of all this evidence, the religious right shrilly shouts about God and the Bible, not to mention the preservation of the traditional family.
God and the Bible say 'Judge not lest ye be judged,' and I think having a family at all would be a thousand times better than languishing in inadequate state custody for years.
Compensation and Benefits
According to a report given to the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. General Accounting Office, the United States government provides 1,138 benefits to legally married couples - none of which homosexual couples are entitled to. Though Bob and Jim have been together for 50 years, they are given less rights and benefits than Britney Spears and her various fifteen-minute-husbands.
I do FMLA and Short Term Disability claims for a living. If you are in my position, you come to realize the number of benefits that normal heterosexual couples take for granted that gay people are simply not entitled to. If your husband dies, you are reasonably entitled under the law to bereavement leave. If your wife is seriously ill and must spend time at home or in the hospital, under the Family Medical Leave Act you are entitled to up to twelve weeks per year to spend caring for your partner, and that time is job-protected - meaning that your employer cannot terminate you or otherwise penalize you for the absence. Gay people don't get an hour in either situation.
The United States government also gives a number of insurance breaks and other allowances to married couples, but these are not as important as the issues that truly ruin lives, such as the inability to take time off to grieve for a lover, or the cruel denial of leave on behalf of a sick partner simply because of sexual orientation. This section could have over a thousand paragraphs in it, so many are the rights refused for gay partners - and this does not even include state benefits and rights extended in specific parts of the country to heterosexual spouses.
Medical and legal decisions
In a medical emergency, a spouse has the right (indeed, the responsibility) to make medical choices on behalf of their partner if he or she is incapacitated and unable to make such decisions themselves. For homosexuals, this right simply does not exist. The truth is far worse than this, however. Many gay men and women find themselves forcibly estranged from their birth families because of bigotry and rejection of their 'lifestyle', and yet the hospitals are forced by law to turn to these same relatives to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient, despite the wishes of his or her partner.
In this country, a spouse has the right not to testify against his or her partner if the other half is arrested. Gay people do not have this right - in fact, they can (and are) arrested and compelled to testify in such cases. If the partner is imprisoned for the alleged crime, the free other half can be denied visitation (let alone conjugal visits) by a hostile judge or even by the accused's family, in many cases. No matter how long or how strong a partnership, if it is between members of the same sex is means absolutely nothing legally.
In the same vein, gay partners are not permitted to sue for wrongful death on behalf of their beloveds, they are not entitled to emotional distress because of a partner's death or injury. Even in cases where the gay couple is very careful with their rights, such as investing in wills and other legal documents, there are literally hundreds of cases where a gay couple's joint assets have been seized by an estranged relative who challenged the deceased's last wishes and won in a hostile judicial environment.
If I were a straight man gallivanting across Asia, I could pick up a lovely Mongolian flower and cart her back off to the west, making her my wife and a citizen. Gay people, however, are not entitled to such rights (even in the case of civil unions, so strict is the law). As a gay man, if I find a dead-sexy stud in Australia that I want to be my beau, I'd better hope he's invested in marketable skills that can get him into the United States without my help, because no matter how deep our love, it means nothing compared to that of a heterosexual couple.
I used to think that gay marriage was a non-issue. I was a bit annoyed whenever it was brought up, as a gay man who wanted to focus on progressive issues that did not compel the conservatives to flood the ballot booths in November. And then I started looking up the sheer number of benefits and entitlements that heterosexual couples get and that are denied completely to gays.
I can't imagine watching my partner's life fade, and then being shut out by a bigoted family that he did not ever want to see again, just because our laws are so backward and inhumane.