With President-elect Barack Obamas recent victory, many Americans are excited about the promise of change for the future of our country. Yet there is one huge issue that lacks the hope for change: gay marriage. While the majority of voters chose hope, many also voted against equality. Equality itself is the essence of feminism and thus equal marriage is, at its core, also a feminist issue.
Currently, Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states where gay marriage has been legalized. At the polls on Nov. 4, three states Arizona, Florida and California voted for a constitutional change to define marriage as a heterosexual-only institution.
Floridas amendment passed with more than 60 percent of voters on its side. Arizona where a similar ban on same-sex marriage had been rejected just two years ago championed heterosexual-only marriage by a large margin as well. And perhaps the most heartbreaking of all was Californias Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage.
Proposition 8 was passed by support from just over 50 percent of voters in a state where same-sex marriages have been performed since June and where one of the most gay-friendly cities in America San Francisco is located. There are now 30 states altogether that have passed bans on gay marriage.
Same-gender couples can still obtain civil unions in California, but this is not even an option in Arizona or Florida. A civil union is similar to marriage in many ways and provides protection to couples at the state level. But it omits federal protections, which means that couples with civil unions miss out on over 1,000 benefits given by the federal government to married couples. Marriages are recognized from state to state, and married couples can be divorced in any state. This is not possible for those with civil unions. These unions just do not provide the same dignity, clarity, security or power of the word marriage.
There is also now a stigma attached to civil unions. Some people think they are not real unions and are seen as being less indelible than marriages are.
What people might not realize is that Barack Obama is opposed to same-sex marriage and only supports civil unions. His candidacy turned out a huge number of Hispanic and black voters, the majority of whom supported the bans.
As our first president of color, you would think that he and his supporters would try to consider the oppression that accompanies separate but equal conditions for members of a certain group. Sure, a civil union is like a marriage, just as separate schools for blacks were like those for whites in our country not so long ago.
The biggest problem with banning gay marriages is the fact that gay and lesbian people are being denied a basic personal right that most people who are unaffected by these laws take for granted. While heterosexual couples dismiss marriage as just a piece of paper, gay couples have to fight for it, wondering if they will ever be able to commit themselves to the one they love in the same way that heterosexual couples can. It is disturbing that the majority of voters would support this kind of discrimination.
So why would so many Americans vote against same-sex marriages? Along with the fact that homophobia is flourishing in our country, the institution of marriage itself has always been a heteronormative and patriarchal institution. As a generalization, it is seen as a union between a man and a woman a union where the woman is expected to take the mans name, thus continuing his power. The couples are expected to procreate and make a perfect nuclear family where the man is the provider. Because same-sex marriage deviates quite a bit from this ideal, it makes people uncomfortable.
Even though this ideal view of marrige suits many people, we conveniently overlook the fact that these situations arent always foolproof, as evidenced by the number of divorces and single parents there are these days.
It seems that there is no way to predict how well a marriage will turn out, yet same-sex couples are forced out of even having the experience.
The ban on same-sex marriage in these states, as well as the restrictions put on same-sex unions in other states, is reminiscent of issues with interracial marriage, which was not completely legal in every state until the late 1960s.
If rulings deeming interracial marriage to be constitutional were not passed, imagine how different things would be. President-elect Obama (and yours truly) might not even exist!
Discrimination is inherent in bans on gay marriage, just as much as sexism can be found in job discrimination based on gender. When discrimination in any of its forms is legalized, its a huge step backward for any people who believe themselves to be true to equality.