Saturday, June 30, 2012

What same-sex marriage represents

It's the end of June, and LGBTQ Pride Month is coming to a close.  Last week, I was pleased to attend the opening of the new exhibit at Montgomery College, Portraits of Life: LGBT Stories of Being as well as a day-long consortium organized by MC Pride and Allies entitled How Do You Do It?, bringing together students, faculty, staff, and administrators from a number of local colleges and universities to discuss best practices for creating a welcoming campus for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff.  Both were wonderful events and I am proud that we are making a visible commitment to support the LGBTQ members of our community.  In doing so, we take a stand for a more equal society that does not discriminate based on sexuality or gender expression.

In many ways, we have made tremendous strides toward that equal society, but that progress is mixed with strong backlash, as well.  The recent Pride image of a rainbow Oreo posted by Kraft Foods on Facebook reveals the mainstream corporate support for the LGBTQ community, but it also elicited a stream of anti-gay commentary.  This year has seen similar conflict over same-sex marriage in the United States.  In a historic first, President Obama and Vice-President Biden both came out in support of legal recognition for same-sex marriage (the first sitting president of the U.S. to do so).  However, this endorsement followed the passage of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships in North Carolina, the 30th state in the U.S. to pass such an amendment. 

In his keynote speech at How Do You Do It?, Luke Jensen (University of Maryland) shared his lifetime of experiences in the trenches as an LGBTQ advocate.  As he marked various components of the struggle (HIV/AIDS, hate crimes, bullying, invisibility), I was struck by how far we have come over the years . . . and how far we still have to go.  For example, attitudes towards same-sex marriage have clearly changed in recent years.  While only 35% of Americans favored legalizing same-sex marriage in 2001, 47% indicated support in 2012, according to Pew research polls.  A recent ABC poll (April 2012) found that 53% of Americans favored legalizing same-sex marriage.  In short, polls indicate increasing support for legalizing same-sex marriage, but the country is still split on the issue, with strong feelings on both sides.