I had lunch with my mother last week, during which she told me that “they” (meaning us gay people) “should start telling people that marriage is a human rights issue.” Although we gay people have been explaining this for years, it was a significant revelation for my mother who voted for Prop 8 and against my marriage. We have spoken twice since the election in November.

I find her new perspective interesting—a nice change from the exhausting drone of condemnation, but still on a journey towards understanding that is, in no way, assured. In the more than 10 years I have been out to her, we have gone from reparative therapy to partial disownment to complete denial to begrudging quasi-tolerance. (Note here that tolerance is not a goal to be achieved, but a baseline step toward peaceful coexistence that is still, in many ways, full of condescension and bigotry. “Tolerance” may give us a few moments of cease fire, but it is a far cry from understanding, compassion, or lasting peace).

Listening to my mom discover old truths for the first time has reminded me that we are all in different places on this path to understanding. The truth is, explaining things that seem so basic and fundamental is exhausting. I tend to get caught up in the anger of “Why should I have to explain myself? I don’t need your permission to live my own life.”  I have to remind myself that there is still much explaining to be done.

Thus, I will start by addressing a couple of comments that my mother made at the table.  My mom will be the quintessential straight person, and I will bat for the gays. Ready? Here we go:

Mom: “I think people are just grossed out by the thought of what you all do in the bedroom.”

Me: “I know it’s hard to believe, but we gays are a bit grossed out by what you all do in the bedroom…and on TV, and in the movies, and everywhere else that we have to watch it on a daily basis. But we love and accept you anyway.”

Mom: “We live in a secular society.”

Me: “Well, there sure are a lot of religious people around. How about pluralistic?”

Mom: “Rick Warren has done a lot of good for a lot of people. Just because he compared gay marriage to pedophilia and bestiality, we cannot discount the good he has done.”

Me: “True. Rick Warren is partially responsible for getting the evangelical community to pay attention to the world outside their walls—catching up with what the rest of the world has been doing for almost 50 years. But that doesn’t excuse his demoralizing remarks. Priests may do a lot of good for a community, but we shouldn’t ignore molestation.”

Mom: “Gay people have all kinds of “special rights.” If you say anything or do anything against them, it’s a ‘hate crime’.”

Me: “Actually, gay people don’t have ANY “special rights.” On a federal level, gay people have no rights…Let me break it down for you:

Federal – The Supreme Court has struck down anti-sodomy laws (Lawrence v. Texas). This means the state can’t tell you how to have sex. (Of course, this benefits straight people and gay people alike.) The Supreme Court also ruled against a voter passed constitutional amendment in Colorado, which stated that no law could ever be passed in that state that would provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation (Romer v. Evans). Yes, Colorado voters had amended their constitution to say that.

That’s it. There are no other federal protections provided to LGBT people in this country. Well, there is an Executive Order that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation of current or potential federal employees.  But, then again, there’s that whole ban on LGBT people serving in the military, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) discriminates against gay federal employees by not extending equal benefits to gay couples as to straight couples. So, I’d say the EO isn’t going very well.*”

As for hate crimes, only about half the states in this country have laws that recognize “sexual orientation” as a protected class that may be targeted for a hate crime. While there is a federal hate crimes law, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation are not covered by this law.

Mom: “But I thought I heard that they were voting on this a while back.”

Me: “Yes, Congress considered adding sexual orientation to the federal hate crimes bill in 2007, and they took up an employee non-discrimination act (ENDA).  Neither of these have become laws as of yet.”

Mom: “Well, why do gay people need ‘protection’? They are still protected under the same laws as everyone else.”

Me: “True, but gay people are discriminated against simply for being gay. (If I need to write a separate blog examining this, I will.) In spite of this, there are several states where this type of discrimination is legal. Let’s break it down by things that most of us take for granted:

Work – “In 33 states, it is legal to fire someone based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.” NCLR

Home – As of 2004, there were only 11 states that prevented housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. I moved to New York City with my wife a couple years ago. Legally, we were registered Domestic Partners in the state of California. We applied for an apartment together. My income was enough to satisfy the property manager’s demand that we make at least 3 times the rent. The landlord treated us as if we were roommates, demanding that I make three times “my half” the rent and my wife make three times “her half.” My wife’s student loans did not qualify her. I explained that we were legally a couple, that I would be paying the rent, that my income met the burden for both of us, and that I was legally just as responsible as she was if she were to stop paying any of her bills. We were not approved for this reason. Per Lambda Legal, according to a 2001 nationwide survey commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 34% of gay people have been turned away from renting or buying a home because of their sexual orientation, or know someone who has.”

Love – Like everybody, many LGBT people grow up, fall in love, and get married. Same sex marriage is not new. It’s been around for centuries, and, in fact, was legal in ancient civilizations. LGBT couples have continued to make lifetime commitments to each other despite the fact that our relationships have been ignored by modern society and law. Currently gay marriages are recognized in Connecticut and Massachusetts. There are 5 states that have constructed a legal entity meant to be equal to marriage in all but name. It is important to note that most businesses and employers recognize “marriage” as the distinction deserving of rights and benefits, and they do not have to make these benefits available to couples who are “civil unioned” or “domestic partnered.” There are 29 states with constitutional amendments banning the recognition of our marriages, and 48 states plus the District of Columbia ban them in some form or another. Even in the states that recognize our relationships and who we are to each other, the Congressional Budget Office found 1,138 statutory provisions “in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving ‘benefits, rights, and privileges.'”

Family – Many LGBT couples have children. Some from previous relationships, some adopted, and some through reproductive assistance. In most states, the needs and rights of our children are largely ignored. Almost half the states in this country bar second parent adoptions, which means our chosen partner may not legally adopt our children. There are states where it is illegal for LGBT people or couples to adopt, or even foster, orphaned children. This is truly disgraceful, and these laws are expanding (Kentucky).

Even though human rights, or “fundamental rights” as they are called in our country’s constitution, are clear and lean toward individual freedom and dignity, our society has ignored these rights when it comes to LGBT people. More recently, we have witnessed an open attack on the fundamental human rights of LGBT people. LGBT people just want to live their lives in peace like everybody else. We want to be healthy, fall in love, maybe have children, have a job we like, buy a house, and retire somewhere warm–simply put: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Even my mom now understands we are entitled to these rights in our society.

*For those of you worried that I said there is a “ban” on LGBT people serving in the military, calm down. I know the official policy is not called a “ban.” I also know that I cannot join the military because there is legal evidence of my relationship with my wife, and that thousands of LGBT service members have been discharged from the military for being, or being suspected of being, gay. So they may not call it a ban, but “business law is business practice.”

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