June 23, 2007

"Equality Itself"

That's the title of a stirring editorial in the Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus:

Democracy does not provide crisp, clean victories on issues involving clashing values and shifting attitudes. Real and lasting change does not come with the stroke of a pen.

The struggle for gay marriage has been under way for decades now, and only in recent years have public attitudes undergone the kind of transformation that would allow an elected legislature to side with their gay and lesbian constituents and their supporters seeking equal marriage rights.

Even the terms of the debate have shifted. Gay marriage is the common term for the goal of freedom-to-marry advocates. But advocates for gay marriage insist they don't want gay marriage — a special category of marriage for gay people. They want marriage. Over time it has become more widely understood that what the advocates of gay marriage are talking about is marriage equality or freedom to marry.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick put the issue in a larger context on Thursday. "Today's vote is not just a vote for marriage equality," he said. "It was a vote for equality itself."

In Massachusetts, as in Vermont, supporters of marriage equality gained ground when they put a human face on their cause. Gay and lesbian residents told stories about the relationships that mattered to them, about family, loyalty, commitment. When confronted with the human reality of gay relationships, it happens again and again that fear recedes.

There is always fear. But the shadow fear casts has diminished as Massachusetts gave us a victory on Thursday for equality itself.

I want to elaborate on the point about putting a human face on the cause. Legislators and advocates can rail about all of the horrible things that will happen to society of two people of the same gender are allowed to marry, but I believe most people have a much harder time saying that to their face. After all, isn't that human nature; it's a lot harder to say or do something that will inflict pain on someone when you know them, when they're live, flesh and blood people.

That's why it is so important for people to put themselves out there, tell their stories, and put a human face on issues of discrimination.

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