Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You Should Support Gay Marriage. Period.

In solidarity with the Human Rights Campaign's Stand for Marriage initiative, my Facebook friends list has been littered with these little red "=" signs:

I am finding it difficult to adequately express how much respect I have gained for a few of my friends and family members who I never thought I would see taking a public stand against bigotry and inequality. Seeing that some of them, especially the Christian supporters, got slammed in their comment sections by appalled social conservatives lead me to respect them even more.

Interestingly enough, social conservatives were not the only people who stood in opposition to the campaign. I few of my friends criticized the idea of gay marriage from a viewpoint on the left:

There are several different arguments being used here. The first is that marriage is inherently patriarchal and/or heteronormative, therefore LGBTQ+ community members should, as a matter of principle, not involve itself in it. Some people I saw even went to far as to call it "cultural imperialism" and "assimilation". I do not accept constructivist epistemology and I am not a cultural relativist, so these arguments mean little to me in the first place. I also strongly contest that idea that marriage is always and inherently patriarchal. Let's assume, however, that you disagree with me on all of these counts and you use these supposed facts to justify a lack of support for marriage equality. If you have done so, then you are effectively using the exact same arguments that social conservatives use to oppose gay marriage. Marriage is intrinsically X, which is inapplicable to members of the LGBTQ community. Therefore, members of the LGBTQ should not get married. The same objections that apply to the conservative variant also apply to the liberal variant. Marriage equality isn't about encouraging marriage between certain people. It is about giving certain people the right to enter into a specific legal contract. Marriage is currently a legal institution and it has specific rights and privileges that come along with it. It probably will remain so for a while. As long as it remains an important legal institution, all people, regardless of identity, should have the right to participate in it. Whether or not they choose to exercise that right is the business of the individual. Believe it or not, there are members of the LGBTQ community who want to get married. The people above who use the term "us" and assumed that all of the support for the campaign was coming from "straight allies" is pretty insulting and demeaning to members of the LGBTQ community who disagree with them and who want desperately to see their partnership legally recognized.

There is another argument against the overt support of gay marriage floating around that I would like to briefly address. The point has been made that marriage equality is somewhat of a first world problem. Compared to the plight of transpeople, for example, whether or not gay couples can marry is a small issue. While I can sympathize with the notion that there are worse problems out there for those of us who are LGBTQ, I still do not think that this fact diminishes the relative importance of gay marriage. 

Let me introduce you to the concept of the political opportunity structure. POS is topic that you might run across if you ever study the theory and practice of social movements. Political opportunity theory states that the political environment in which a social movement operates largely determines the success and/or failure of that social movement. That political environment is the POS. Right now, there is a huge political opportunity when it comes to gay marriage. It's a hot button issue, people are talking about it, the media is covering it, the political institutions are making decisions on it. While it may not be the only or even most important goal of LGBTQ activists, it is a goal that is in our sights. Focusing on gay marriage now is strategic because there is a political opportunity for change in this area. If the movement acts correctly, the achievement of this small goal could open doors for more opportunities in the future. Once LGBTQ people have the right to marry, people will slowly begin to realize that their presence will not lead to the collapse of society. Then we can take more steps in the direction of activism.

There is really no excuse for not supporting marriage equality. The issue at hand is not really marriage, per se. The issue is equality before the law. Heaven help you if your ideology causes you to stand in opposition to that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why Women in Secularism Matters for Students

(I was originally asked to write this for the CFI on Campus blog. Make sure to go over there and donate!)

I attended the first Women in Secularism conference in the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. The Secular Spring was in full swing. I was brimming with passion spurred by March's Reason Rally and I had just been elected president of my university's CFI On Campus affiliate group. Though I was certain that I wanted to become more involved in the Secular Movement, there was a poignant fear lingering in the back of my mind, nagging at me. I wondered whether or not I had the power, the charisma or the authority to ever become an influential secular leader.

I soon realized that one of the reasons I doubted myself was that I had never been exposed to a powerful, charismatic female leader in the Secular Movement. I had been weaned off of my religiosity on a diet of Christopher Hitchens, Aron Ra and Matt Dillahunty. Influential though these men are, they are exactly that: men. I didn't have the deep, booming voice or the tall, imposing stature of these leaders. I worried that, without these qualities, I would be passed over. It was at the Women in Secularism conference that I abandoned this worry.

The conference was small, but the atmosphere was friendly and energetic. At the opening reception, it was easy for people, both women and men, to introduce themselves and to make connections. Even the distinguished speakers in the conference's impressive all-female lineup were kind and accessible. There was an immediately apparent sense of community from that night onward. We laughed together at the infectious wit of speakers like Susan Jacoby and Jamila Bey. We cried together when we heard the powerful, heart wrenching stories that Wafa Sultan told us about the effects of fundamentalist religion on women in Syria, reminding us to "never take anything for granted".

A part of me expected the conference to focus on feminism, but it was less about any ideology than it was about the experiences of secular women. Sikivu Hutchinson spoke of a unique pressure that society puts on women and minorities to be religious. As an African American woman, she had seen first hand how religion permeates both of these communities and how little the secular activists do about it. Being a woman who had both attended school and taught in an urban public school system, I despondently realized how true her observations were, making a mental note to do more volunteer work in Detroit with my SSA group. Bernice Sandler gave a talk about how women and men are treated differently and expect to act differently, especially in the workplace. When she asserted that women generally aren't expected to speak with the power and authority, it became clear to me why the thought of being a student leader made me so nervous. It also became clear though, that each and every woman who spoke at that conference had overcome that unfair societal expectation. This realization gave me hope that I would some day be able to do the same.

Though each charismatic and insightful speaker touched me in their own way, the presentation that touched me the most was Annie Laurie Gaylor's talk on the history of freethinking women. Gaylor had compiled an extensive collection of information on women who had been outspoken critics of religious dogma from the 1800s up until the present day. She projected a picture of each woman onto the screen and told her story. These women were writers, social critics, political activists and average people who simply dared to question the beliefs that they had been raised with. Many of them struggled or died for their beliefs. Never before had I heard the history that was being laid out before at this conference. I could feel tears begin to form as I realized that I, along with every other woman in that room, was a protagonist in the next chapter of that history. I, the newly elected student activist, was now a part of a proud and powerful tradition of women in the Secular Movement. I sincerely wish that every young secular activist could have the experience that I did in that moment.

I returned to my student group with a renewed passion for the Movement. I was keenly aware that there was so much left to do in order to make this country and this world a better place for nonbelievers, especially nonbelieving women and minorities. I wanted to become the kind of student leader who would make proud the secular women who came before me. I wanted to become the kind of activist who would help create a better world for the secular women to come.