Balance and equality: Of human rights and hospitals

I may offend some of my readers with this post.  If I do, I apologize.  You can stop reading now.  My purpose is not to attack religion or other people’s personal opinions.  However, today the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments for and against Proposition 8, the 2008 amendment to the California state constitution that made marriage illegal for gay couples, and I feel I need to add my voice to the growing and powerful chorus in support of equal human rights, including marriage, for all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

Pro and anti-Proposition 8 protesters rally in...

Pro and anti-Proposition 8 protesters rally in front of the San Francisco City Hall as the California Supreme Court holds a session in the to determine the definition of marriage (Strauss v. Horton cases). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having been raised Catholic and having attended a Catholic college, I understand on a theoretical level the Church’s stance on homosexuality and marriage.  Leaving aside for now the reasons why I think this stance is illogical, I just want to make it clear that I deeply respect the rights of every individual, and of every faith group, to their beliefs and to their right to practice their religion as they see fit.  I do not think churches should be forced to perform marriages of gay couples if they see that as wrong.  However, this is not what is at stake.

What is at stake is a basic human right which is currently being denied to about 5-9% of the U.S. population. This basic human right is not merely symbolic.  It allows couples to share legal, financial, and family benefits that are not currently guaranteed under domestic partnerships.  This was never clearer to me than on a recent trip to visit my father-in-law in Spokane.  He has major medical issues, and as we were driving him up to his house, he started to become seriously ill.  We rushed him to the ER and as my husband and I helped him into the intake station, the nurse turned to me and asked, “Are you family?”  I was able to say yes, and I was able to stay.  It hit me in that moment that if I had been gay, I might have been turned away.  It would have been up to that nurse to make the judgement call, but he would have been within his powers to turn me away, just for the lack of a piece of paper saying I am legally married to my partner, a legally, officially recognized member of his family.  This is not a right that can be denied on any grounds of religion or personal preference.  It is a basic human right — the right to be allowed to call your family the ones you love and to whom you have taken an oath of love and loyalty.  To continue to deny this right would be to continue an injustice that I truly hope one day will seem absurd.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with my teaching.  I do not share my political beliefs with my students directly, but I do expect my students to respect diversity and difference in the classroom, at least.  What I find wonderful is the number of students who speak out on a regular basis for the rights of all human beings to love and have their love recognized in legal marriage.  Many of my students are from backgrounds and faiths that disapprove of homosexuality, and so these students take a risk with their families and their peers by making such a statement.  The sheer number of my students who willingly express their belief in equality gives me faith that this will be a reality in my lifetime.  If the older generation does not have the courage and character to make it happen in the immediate future, perhaps one of my students will be among those who do one day not too long from now.  And that gives me both immense hope, and pride.

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