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Opinion | The gateway to equality for all must extend beyond toleration

Milam's Musings

Online Editor

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 22:01

Much of the focus in the gay rights debate is on gaining equality under the law, and understandably so.

In President Obama’s inauguration address on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, he did something no president before him had done: he mentioned gay people.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said.

He equated the struggle for gay equality to the tribulation blacks and women have faced in gaining equality under the law.

However, equality under the law, while a necessary step, is not enough for me.

I am content with those that say they tolerate gays from a legal standpoint. Such tolerance is acceptable so, as a country, we can move forward with ensuring the equality of gay people.

Yet, I would be severely lacking in depth if I allowed such legal contentment to translate to moral apathy. Morality ought to be the foundation from which all else follows politically, socially and culturally. As such, the moral question is in conjunction with the legality therein.

Therefore, I want to take it a step further and argue that tolerance is not enough. If anything, tolerance is an affront to gay people, much in the same way that we would be aghast to hear someone say, “I’ll tolerate the blacks.” To me, it signifies a sense of superiority on behalf of those doing the tolerating, which is a morally bankrupt position.

Homosexuals from a moral perspective ought to be viewed as normal, equal and perfectly acceptable within the fabric of society, just as women and blacks came to be. In other words, there is nothing inherently abnormal or wrong about homosexuality.

Leading this new way of thinking are the young people or so-called Millennials, born since 1981. They are by far the most supportive of same-sex marriage, according to David Masci, senior researcher with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Pew found 63 percent of Millennials support same-sex marriage, while 30 percent of people born between 1928 and 1945 support it.

In fact, when Obama changed his position on gay marriage back in May, one of the reasons cited were his daughters, Sasha and Malia, both of whom have friends with gay parents.

“There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently,” Obama said.

There are people that view homosexuality as immoral, sinful and gross. Perhaps such perceptions of gay people derive from that fear of the unknown: they simply do not know any homosexuals. Much like how a white person in previous times had never seen a black person before, but were fearful of them by racist reputation alone.

If such individuals actually talked to some homosexuals, they would come to find that homosexuals are normal individuals with hopes and fears that love and lose like the rest of us.

Sure, not all people that view homosexuality as a sin think and act so with vitriolic hatred; it is simply derived from religious beliefs or their upbringing.

However, religious beliefs and one’s upbringing should not be a nonstarter for moral questioning and skepticism. One ought to always question their beliefs. For instance, there are many churches of varying denominations that accept homosexuality and even homosexual priests.

Some will argue with the adage that I am putting the cart before the horse here. Essentially, that I should focus on the legal battle first and then worry about the moral one later.

I would contend that it is the moral battle that informs the legal one. The government’s laws reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the electorate. President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not a panacea to end racism in the United States, but it did reflect a changing attitude towards blacks.

Only by changing the attitudes and beliefs of the electorate will the legal barriers for homosexuals become the gateway to equality.

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