The simplest way to begin is to acknowledge that not every gay person wants to be married; there is no one-size-fits-all relationship model, for gay or straight people. And yet this aspect of gay life has mushroomed beyond all others in the public arena of gay activism, way beyond the too-high suicide rate of gay teens and the too-frequent violence against LGBT and suspected LGBT folk.
One might wonder why gay marriage has become THE shape of the question of gay liberation for now; is it because of the high costs generated by its lack? (The New York Times estimated these costs in an interesting article recently; you can find it here.) Some have argued it’s because the money that supports the activism comes from gayfolk who have everything else but marriage, and that’s all they need to really fit in.
But that’s not what I’m thinking about in this post. This is more from the heart than the wallet. So, let me start from one woman’s perspective, and grow out from there. Equality would mean …
… A child with ambiguous physical sex characteristic differentiation would be allowed to grow up in a family and a society that was okay with ambiguity until the child had a chance to make decisions for her/himself.
… A child who sensed a gender identity at odds with his or her physicality also would experience the latitude to live into performance of gender that felt right, including choice of toys, clothes and activities. (More “family-style” bathrooms that don’t preclude entry based on gender would help.)
… LGBT children would have the chance to grow naturally into their sexual and gender identities as well as other aspects of their identities through healthy processes and over a healthy timeframe. (I started to say “… grow into his or her sexual identity as freely as a straight child,” but I don’t think the sexual maturation processes for some straight kids is so great. Why do nine year old girls start dieting over concerns about their body image? Why do so many teenage girls get pregnant? Why do 25-35 percent of all children experience sexual abuse in their childhoods? [At the hands of straight male family members, for the most part.])
… LGBT teens would have abundant opportunities for socialization and support. Gay relationships would not be assumed to be immoral, an assumption I think derails the ability of many gay kids and teens to develop appropriate and responsible moral agency. Adults around gay kids would realize who kids love isn’t nearly as important as that they love.
… Young LGBT folk would be free to pursue any career they had the gumption and gifts for, with no need to cut off or hide parts of themselves to fit into or avoid stereotypes or prejudices.
… LGBT folk would be free to establish just relationships: featuring mutuality, respect, interdependence, communion, creativity, commitment, marriage where desired, and contribution to the wellbeing of the wider human family through work, service, artistry, and procreation where the desire and ability exists.
… LGBT folk of all ages would be free from the threat of violence triggered by the simple fact of our being. We would be free from the daily tolls of hiding. We would not be stared at (or worse) for holding hands on a stroll down the street, for a kiss goodbye at the airport, for the comfort of touch at emotional times.
… LGBT folk would see straight folk learning from who we are at our best: learning from our expanded understanding of family, from our more generous sense of what it is to love, from our ability to maintain connectedness in the face of all that attempts to take our selves and our relationships and our families and our communities apart.
… LGBT folk would get as much societal support for our relationships as straight people do. Straight folk would grieve with us when our partners die or our relationships end; or if our adoptions and attempts at pregnancy do not succeed. Straight folk would celebrate and bless our unions and marriages and formations of families, our successes and sweet times. The whole society would insist our relationships and families be granted all the recognitions straight families do, including hospital visitation, medical proxies, tax credits, social security, health insurance, medical leave, adoption rights and benefits … and so on. And on.
… LGBT folk of a spiritual bent would have our gifts acknowledged and welcomed in church and synagogue and mosque, in a full awareness of our status as children of God, uniquely formed and shaped to worship and celebrate and pray and serve the God we love.
… LGBT parents and foster parents, by birth or adoption, would get all the acceptance and support (and sympathy!) other parents get: our love for our children has us by the throats just as much as any other parent. With or without societal acceptance, we will go on being good parents: loving, nurturing, cooking, caring, laughing, crying, cleaning up, doing laundry, role modeling, providing, disciplining, going to football games and band competitions, waiting up for the teenager out on her own or on a date … you name it, we’re doing it. Right down the street.
… LGBT folk will have respectful and life-affirming options as we age, whether in same-sex, or multi-generational, or group living settings that will enable us to age in community, with support, and companionship, and affordable health care. When we die, we want to be in the embrace and tender care of the one(s) that love us most.
… LGBT folk will see our wisdom and our ways portrayed with pathos and humor instead of pathology and hate, in film and on television, in books and magazine, in art forms of all kinds.
… LGBT folk will be seen for what we are: human beings, trying hard to be integral and authentic, to love and be loved, to be honest and respectful and to contribute to making the world a better place to live.
… Finally, our passion for justice – informed by a queer worldview all could learn from – would be able to mobilize on behalf of all who experience injustice, and would enable us to be in solidarity with others in their experience of oppression, by way of racism, sexism, classism, age-ism and other forms of prejudice. Oh … wait. We already do this. But we can do it better, can’t we.
And we will … on our best days – and trying hard even on our worst days – we can and will contribute what we know about love and living into our freedom to love, by working to make life better for all of us. Because equality is about more than marriage. It’s about realizing that if one of us isn’t free, none of us is free. And we are called to freedom, by the One who made us.