Love and marriage, love and marriage; go together like a horse and carriage! – Frank Sinatra. This tale of love and happiness has been restricted to men and women for years, and Love and Marriage only went together for heterosexuals. In the past few decades, since Harvey Milk and the gay rights movement, things have been changing.
Across the western world, there have been movements to honor love through equal marriage laws. These have been seen in the UK, France, Scandinavia, and the USA, state by state. In a landmark decision last year, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA made it so that federal benefits could not be given to same-sex married couples; however, under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, this was deemed unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also knocked down Prop 8, allowing gay marriages to resume in the State of California. These two cases allowed for gay rights movements across the United States to run wild, and sense then more and more states are fostering equal marriage rights.
Originally states had to pass ballot initiatives or go through legislation in order to approve gay rights, but the Judiciary system has finally hopped on board! Federal and State courts are declaring State constitution bans on gay marriage unconstitutional. This is a massive step for gay rights activists across the country and approximately 4 dozen cases are pending in the realm of gay rights. This type of ruling has occurred in Oklahoma, Utah, and New Jersey. I have been following these updates closely, and as I was skimming the headlines yesterday, it seems that Virginia has caught the love bug!
A southern state known for social conservatism has come out to revoke the state constitution ban on gay marriage, and just in time for Valentine’s Day! District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s decision is enthralling for gay rights and human rights activists alike. Although her verdict will not go into effect until higher courts have heard the cases, it is an exciting step forward.
Wait a second here. Did he just say human rights? Indeed I did. I believe that the movement towards equality is a firm and solid step for human rights. So, why not Marriage Equality? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not represent gay rights implicitly; it was just written too early for that, but Article 16 reads, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” NOTICE: it does not say “Only men and women together…” If the UN were crafting this declaration today, one can speculate (and personally, I am assured) that the word ‘sexuality’ would be included in the article.
For me, it is entirely too cool to see Virginia on board with the human rights movement, and putting itself on the right side of history, as many other states and nations have done. The work is not complete for gay rights though. In fact, there is still much to deal with: bullying, assaults, discrimination, bias, and so much more. In some States, it is illegal to BE gay, it is illegal to BE who you are. In the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, gay acts are punishable by death. If this is not a gross human rights violation, then I’m not sure what is. Further, in Sochi there has been plenty of uncertainty, due to Russia’s “Anti-Gay” laws, where people are being arrested for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” It’s hurtful to know that Russia will work to keep the LBGT community down in any way possible, such as banning adoptions to same-sex couples abroad, as of yesterday. And some people are afraid that hate speech in Russia will develop into ‘hate action.’ To exemplify this, one famous Russian Actor is quoted as saying “The laws don’t go far enough, and they (LGBT) should be put in ovens.” While I risk making a slippery slope case, it is worth saying that the future is bleak for the LGBT community of Russia.
The best example that I can think of where LGBT rights are being disregarded is in Uganda. Last year, an extremely controversial “Kill the Gays” bill was passed in the Ugandan parliament, where being gay would get you executed, with no questions asked. After international pressure from foreign governments and NGOs, Uganda reduced the penalty to life in prison, yet the President still vetoed the bill due to foreign pressures. A clear example is found in Uganda that we do have a voice for the LGBT community not only domestically, but abroad too. Even with these successes, the work is not done in Uganda. People are still fighting for their rights and it is up to us, human rights activists, to push for human rights. Before Marriage equality can even be discussed, we must first address and affirm Article 3 of the UN declaration, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
The gay rights movement is a young one, but has made amazing strides in the new millennium. After speaking with my aunt and others, who marched with Harvey Milk, it is stunning to hear of the amazing transformation that this country has undergone in regard to gay rights. But we are not done! The work of a human rights activist is never done.
The thing I love most about human rights activists, is that we are fighters , we are the real warriors of the 21st century, and we will continue to fight down the long and treacherous road of the gay rights movement. The men and women of human rights have answered the call of the LGBT community, and we will constantly work towards a more just and equal world. The informal process of ending discrimination and assault is just as important as the legal process of granting civil and political rights, and in both categories it is obvious that the whole world still has a long way to go. Marriage equality is gaining momentum in the USA, yet the right to life for gays is forgotten in Iran. Obviously the war is still raging, but in Virginia we have won a major battle, and for that I rejoice. I am proud to put myself and my home state on the right side of history.
Today is Valentine’s Day. Give love to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Remember that love is one of the key facets of our humanity, and know that many people are told they are not allowed to love. The choice to love is an invaluable human right, and I will always fight for it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.