Change is coming. Faster than I’d even hoped for.
State bans on same-sex marriage are being struck down by federal courts, left and right (I mean that both politically and geographically). Virginia is just the latest. This morning, there was news that the adorable and talented Ellen Page has come out; she’s just the latest public figure to strike another blow at the wall of ignorance that has surrounded so many for so long. I think that within the next five years, legal same-sex marriage will come to every state.
There will also be federal anti-discrimination laws protecting the GLBTQ community. Kansas is helping pave the way for this, even though they don’t seem to know it yet. Kansas, in a terrible throwback to Jim Crow, is about to pass a sweeping law that will basically make gay couples an oppressed underclass. Now, a law that makes it okay for government officials to deny services to a same-sex couple (or anyone who might be associated with a same-sex couple, read: all gay people) is destined to be struck down by the Supreme Court. By any Supreme Court. Possibly even the Supreme Court that made the Dred Scott decision. You can’t allow people in government, or anywhere really, to refuse to provide a legal service to anyone because that person offends their religious beliefs. I tutor students every day that espouse opinions that offend every fiber of my being, but I don’t treat them any differently than any other student. I’m not allowed to. If a clerk at the DMV refused to assist a Muslim woman because she was wearing a hijab, everyone would be up in arms. It’s the same thing if you discriminate against gay people. Worse, in some ways, because how you pray is a choice; your sexuality isn’t. Kansas is trying to pretend that this isn’t a straight Jim Crow law, but it is. And it will fall.
All of this hatred and bigotry and discrimination will fall. You can hear the rumbling and the cracking of the wall.
NFL prospect Michael Sam has officially come out as a gay man to the press; his college team at the University of Missouri already knew. He wanted to own his own story before he went to the NFL, which is just as good a reason for coming out as any.
My mother will undoubtedly say she doesn’t understand all this business about “coming out.” “It’s nobody’s business who you sleep with,” she says pretty much every time a public figure of some sort comes out. I try to let it go, but her attitude gets to me. She’s right; who you sleep with isn’t anybody’s business. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight or asexual. Your sexuality is just another aspect of the person you are. It should be the most private thing in the world, kept between you and your chosen partner(s).
Except that it isn’t. Being gay right now is a lot like being black in the Jim Crow era–with the obvious exception of the fact that no one has to “come out” as black. There are too many places in this world where homosexuality is legislated against, where rights are denied because of sexuality, where people can be imprisoned or murdered because of who they love. And until such bigotry and hate is gone from the world, coming out will matter.
Because every time someone like Michael Sam comes out, some of the ignorance of the world gets chipped away. For many years, people have use their ignorance and fear to justify their bigotry. “I don’t know any gay people” is essentially code for “I think they’re too different from me, and I’m afraid of them.” Not knowing a gay person is used as part of the justification and rationale for discrimination. For every gay person that comes out, there is an exponential number of people who can now say they know a gay person. And they can see that gay people aren’t any different than they are. And the justifications and rationale fall apart. That’s how discrimination will finally be stopped.
So until there are no longer any laws against same-sex marriage, until there is no place where GLBTQ people do not feel threatened or unsafe, coming out will matter. The personal is political.