Thursday, July 9, 2015

American Pride

June 26th, 2015, America enacted a new law: the right for gay couples to marry. What a momentous occasion! I'm so proud of that country right now.

What does that mean for homosexual couples in America? Before accepting this bill into law, homosexual couples could marry and enjoy the benefits of legal union such as taxation, property ownership, parental and inheritance rights in any of the 22 states that permitted and recognized such unions. If that couple should move to a state where such unions are not permitted or recognized, the couple would not enjoy those rights and benefits, even though their marriage is public record.

That covers the legal aspects of federally sanctioned union for homosexuals. Now, let's talk about historical and social aspects.  

This landmark Supreme Court decision echoes of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Neither President Kennedy nor Vice President Johnson were excited about the idea of signing into law a proposal that would give equal civil rights to minorities. It was a stopgap measure; a way to curb civil unrest that was quickly growing into a major disturbance, with skirmishes exploding in cities across America, especially in the southern states.

President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law just months after President Kennedy's assassination. If the nation was in turmoil over race while the charismatic JFK was in office, it was close to eruption after the slaying. You could say that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act as a peace offering. It didn't help much because thereafter ensued riots: Chicago, Harlem in New York, Watts in Los Angeles, Detroit, and all over the south.

Nevertheless, minorities in America, specifically of African descent now had rights equal under the law to those of Caucasian descent. Exercising those rights was a different matter altogether. While the law prohibited discrimination, bigotry of individuals took a long time to erase. Some 'white' businesses refused to served 'colored'. Real estate agents would not introduce their 'colored' buyers into 'white' neighborhoods. Job protection and equal wages also suffered from these slights: it was thought that 'colored' schools were inferior to 'white' schools, thus among 2 candidates holding equal credentials for a job, the 'white' would be hired.

That perpetual imbalance is what drove the riots. It took a long time for mainstream American society to accept racially diverse people as equal to themselves, and there are still parts of America where being anything but Caucasian is a cause for concern. 

Of course, these days there are parts of America where it is not a good idea to roam if you are Caucasian, but that relates to gang violence, not directly because of race/ethnicity.

It took more than 40 years to eradicate ingrained prejudice against minorities from the American social landscape – in fact, it is still a work in progress in some parts of the country. It will take that amount of time or longer to recognize homosexuals/ couples as legitimate, contributing members of society. This time, discrimination is not brought about because of an obvious difference such as skin color. Religion seems to be driving this particular brand of bigotry.

In the Supreme Court decision drafted by Justice Anthony Kennedy, he emphasizes that 'religious opponents (of this law) may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction” that gay marriage is wrong. Thus, a landlord opposed to homosexuality because of his religious beliefs can refuse to rent or sell a property to a gay couple. Restaurants, whose religion-based family theme might not support homosexuality can refuse to host, seat and serve gay couples. Adoption agencies funded by religious organizations can refuse to permit a gay couple to adopt, even if they meet all of the psychological, social and financial criteria.

In short: homosexual couples have gained rights but no new avenues to exercise them. Unlike civil rights for minorities, there cannot be any enforcment of these equal rights for gays because religion is a subjective, personal preference, and religious freedom is protected by the U.S. Constitution.   

My thoughts on homosexuality are neither here nor there. However, I stand firmly on the side of civil and human rights. Although the American governement has gone a long way toward recognizing marriage as beyond the traditional religious definition - 'between man and woman', there will be a long way to go before homosexual marriage and family model can be woven into American society. 

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