CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning same-sex marriage, affecting the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8, were a milestone for gay and lesbian people, as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The rulings do not make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, but allow couples married in the 13 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized civil same-sex marriages to enjoy more than 1,100 federal benefits previously bestowed only on man-woman marriages.
The change also falls in line with rights in 14 countries on four continents that have approved same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court decision jolted those who do not support same-sex marriages because it brought them a large defeat for which there really is no remedy except to accept the unconstitutionality of treating persons unequally in a country that prides itself on promoting equality. Those opponents wish gay people to be seen as a different class of Americans, which is absurd -- all Americans must be equal under the law.
Opponents must come to realize that, while they may abhor the thought of men loving men and women loving women, they will be powerless to prevent same-sex couples from being treated differently under laws of the United States.
States like West Virginia, grandly and historically in the forefront of the abolitionist movement, likely will lag in acceptance of gay and lesbian people. The road to acceptance will be long and difficult for many Mountaineers and others in 38 states that currently do not allow same-sex marriages.
The pattern is reminiscent of the way people fought against voting by women, and blacks and whites marrying and having children, or serving in the same military units, or learning in the same schools. We overcame those prejudices -- and nothing dire happened to women, marriage, the effectiveness of the military, and the way children grow and learn.
Prejudice against legal marriage for same-sex couples will wane as laws change to protect them. This does not mean that opponents will like it -- but they will have to accept it as a part of living in a country where people are treated equally and are not discriminated against for something they did not choose, like being male or female, having blue or brown eyes, being tall or short, or being light or dark skinned.
Some think that being gay is a choice. However, much data suggest that being gay is a genetic inheritance, impervious to choice. A practical response to this view is to ask: Why would anyone choose to be gay in a country that discriminates against them, can fire them from their jobs, can evict them from their homes, can bully them and "bash" them? This sort of discrimination occurs every day in these United States. Would you choose to be gay under these circumstances?
Some say that same-sex couples should not marry to preserve the "sanctity" of marriage. However, it is because marriage is seen as sacred that same-sex people expect the right to marry! There is nothing in the definition of sanctity to suggest that marriage should be only between one man and one woman.
And, some say that children need both a mother and a father to be reared properly. Many studies conclude that it is not the sex of parent(s) that matters in promoting healthy child development, but the love with which that child is reared.
Many point to the Bible, which calls homosexuality an abomination. We live with -- and in some cases accept and promote -- other abominations in the world: war, famine, adultery, usury, legal murder, errant children and spying. Yet these are not seen as so horrible as to warrant changing them by law. The same Bible that abhors homosexuality also admonishes people to kill children who disobey them, to avoid wearing the color red, and to see women as "defiled" through menstruation. Does anyone really believe this today?