Opinion

Commentary: Barriers to same-sex marriage should come tumbling down

I have been a so-called "gay activist" for at least 20 years. Marriage used to be a little controversial as a gay cause. In the beginning, a minority of gay activists firmly adopted marriage as the ultimate 20th century gay cause. A louder majority called it a sellout, a throwback to paternalistic social forms, an unworthy goal.

The minority, through obstinate and painstaking work, became the majority. I joined the cause early — I came to see that excluding same-sex couples from this supremely ordinary, ubiquitous state marked us as less than human more than anti-gay violence or workplace discrimination ever did. Because it affected everyone, every day.

Marital status? Spouse's name? Next of kin? You can't even go to the doctor without being asked these questions. We were left outside the nomenclature that defined everyone else — with no way in.

Even as I believed all that, and fought for marriage, I never thought that I yearned to be married myself. I am a divorce lawyer who knows very well that the blessed state of marriage often is not. Blessed, that is.

Imagine my surprise when the California Supreme Court announced that excluding same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional. Suddenly, almost anyone who wanted to, could get married in California. And after all these years I realized that I wanted to. Apparently it was simply sour grapes when I thought I did not care, personally, if I could ever get married. I did care, and I do care. I wanted the same chance everyone else has to "tie the knot," "walk down the aisle," and "hear the wedding bells chime." I felt like the lame who can walk and the blind who can see. So we went and got married in California.

Two days later the California voters pulled the plug. They don't want me to be married any more.

This should not have come as a surprise. Nearly every time voters anywhere in the country have been asked to vote on same-sex marriage, they have said no. But this time I was shocked.

I find I don't want to go quietly any more. I want someone to explain to me why anyone else cares whether I am married or not. It matters a whole lot to me, to my family and to my new spouse.

Religion can't be the reason, because my religion allows it, and we don't let other people's religions determine my legal rights.

I don't want to have to win a popularity contest for my marriage any more — who else has to have their wedding plans approved by the electorate? I can no longer imagine any serious public policy reason why anyone is better off if I choose to spend my life with my partner but can't marry her.

Unfortunately, gay rights really is the 21st century civil rights struggle. We are the only ones left whose basic rights still have to win a majority vote. I don't think Obama would be president today if we had approached racial equality this way. We don't expect approbation or approval, just tolerance. Just let us be married.

It doesn't seem like much to ask.

Allison Mendel is a lawyer in Anchorage.

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