Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Marriage Equality is Inevitable

Marriage equality is inevitable. It is going to happen in Maryland and it will eventually happen across the country. The reason for that is not politics, nor religion, nor even the daily tactical decisions of civil rights organizations like Equality Maryland. It is because of two forces that are infinitely more primordial: personal relationships and mathematics.

Are you a straight person? If so, do you remember your first gay friend? If you met your first openly gay friend more than fifteen years ago, as I did, there was probably a bit of novelty to it. After all, no one else you knew was gay. But after awhile, you stopped thinking about that friend in that context. You treated him or her the same as you treated other friends. But there was always one difference: that gay friend could never have a relationship that was formally sanctioned by society. It did not matter how satisfying or constructive that relationship was – it could never be recognized as marriage.

And so if you have a gay friend that you really care about, gay marriage is not a gay issue. It’s about you, your friend and your relationship with that friend. Because if you oppose gay marriage, you would have to look that friend in the eye and tell him or her that their romances and dreams were inherently inferior to yours. And if you’re like me, you could never, ever do that. It’s just not possible to do it and retain your own humanity. So it was with me as I became pro-gay marriage soon after I met my first gay friend.

Now here’s where mathematics comes in. Suppose that 5% of the population in Maryland is gay. No one knows for sure, but let’s use that number for now. That would mean roughly 275,000 gay people now live in Maryland. More than fifteen years ago, gay relationships were still taboo for the most part. So at that time, perhaps 30,000-50,000 gay people were out. They had straight friends and family members who cared about them. Many of them accepted those gay people for what they were, and they accepted their relationships. Many of them adopted my view that marriage was their fundamental right. Suppose, again, that each of those gay people had ten friends and family members who came to believe in their right to marriage. That would add up to perhaps a sixth to a fifth of the state’s population.

Over the years, more and more gay people came out. And they made more and more friends. And many of them formed families. So the numbers grew and grew. Suppose 250,000 gay people are now living as openly gay in the state today. And suppose each of them has ten friends and family members that believe in their right to marry. That would equal 2.75 million believers in marriage equality in Maryland, close to half the population. But the process does not stop there. Friends of gay people talk to their friends, some of whom do not have close relationships with gays. And so they too become converted.

What we have been witnessing is a magical virus of humanity passing from person to person. This is happening right now, in our cafeterias, our offices, our sidewalks, our living rooms and even our churches. It cannot be stopped. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be defied or suppressed. And it is taking over our culture. Conservatives are fond of emphasizing the importance of our national culture. For once, I agree with them. Person by person, our culture is producing a groundswell for marriage equality.

In the short term, Maryland’s politicians have a choice. Like Attorney General Doug Gansler, they can embrace gay marriage. Or they can squirm uncomfortably in the murky netherworld of civil unions. Or they can spit into the wind as the gusts mount. But over the long term, marriage equality is coming. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.