Letter to the Editor: the fight for marriage equality is not as simple as it seems

By: Samantha Meza

Editor’s note: this letter responds to Andrew Del Bene’s column last week, “Marriage equality: a different perspective.”

I found the editorial entitled “Marriage equality: a different perspective” to be quite unsettling. I will dissect exactly why I am bothered enough by this editorial to write such a fervent response by breaking the writer’s thesis into three parts: “…while there is1) a natural social progression towards 2) tolerance and equality, the fight for 3) marriage equality is, in fact, a redefinition of marriage.”

1) The columnist writes, “Proponents argue that marriage equality is yet another step in the battle for total civil rights and… is a natural progression that will occur with or without our intervention.” He goes on to write that “the proponents (claim) that marriage equality will just happen eventually.” This is an incredible misunderstanding of the perspective of the activists fighting for this cause that, in my opinion, undermines the great efforts that they have put forth over the years. No activist fighting for change of any kind has ever had the mentality that equality will just happen eventually. If equality happened on its own, with or without our intervention, there would not be so many activists out there fighting for it. Rather, it is our intervention that allows us to move forward. Without it, we would remain stagnant.

2) The writer claims that we are moving towards “tolerance and equality.” Tolerance is endurance. It is putting up with your loudly snoring roommate rather than shaking them awake. It is hanging out with your significant other’s obnoxious friend. Tolerance is enduring something you don’t like, don’t want or don’t think is okay for the sake of keeping the peace, saving face or otherwise not stirring the waters. Tolerance is not acceptance.

Acceptance is recognizing the worth of a fellow person and the value of their perspective and lived experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree, but rather that you, at the very least, not only show respect, but feel it authentically.

Someone who merely tolerates black people may not act outwardly hateful towards them but inside still harbors resentment over their difference. Someone who merely tolerates homosexual people may not act outwardly hateful towards them but inside still harbors resentment over their difference.

In the first instance, we’d be quick to call that someone a racist, and yet the second instance is what we are supposedly working towards? Tolerance is not our goal. Making everyone agree with us is not our goal, either. Acceptance is what we are fighting for. Tolerance cannot go hand-in-hand with equality, for as long as resentment over differences exists, prejudices will make equality impossible.

3) The columnist writes, “My point: why can’t the supporters of marriage equality just take this for what it is? Fighting from the perspective of civil rights and human equality is all well and good. But wouldn’t the supporters of marriage equality completely undermine their opponents by also understanding this as a fight over definition and… demonstrate the fallacy of (the) “tradition” and “custom” (arguments of) their opponents?”

The columnist builds his case off of the foundation that marriage has been redefined several times throughout history. He cites property exchange, parentage of legitimate children and procreation as examples of so-called definitions of marriage that are now, he presumes, outdated. I would argue, however, that these instances have not redefined marriage. Marriage has been and continues to be a union between individuals. Rather, it is the purpose of marriage that has evolved over time, at least to some extent. In our current society, the purpose of marriage is overwhelmingly to affirm and celebrate the love between individuals. Regardless of the evolving purposes based on societal needs and norms, the definition of marriage remains the union of individuals.

All that said, there’s something more to the “marriage equality is about redefinition” claim that deeply troubles me. Let’s say a heterosexual couple gets married today. Then tomorrow, marriage equality is universally accepted in our society. If marriage itself were redefined by the acceptance of marriage equality, then the heterosexual couple’s marriage is somehow redefined as well. If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.

Homosexuals and their allies are not asking for a redefinition. We are not asking for something new or different. We are asking to be included in something that already exists.

Ideas like the one this writer proposes — that marriage equality means redefinition — are the reasons why people are so fearful of marriage equality. Claiming that marriage equality means a redefinition of marriage is stating that somehow if homosexuals get married then marriage as whole will change, that somehow heterosexual marriages will change. They will not. The fight for marriage equality is not a fight for the redefinition of marriage. It is exactly what the phrase implies: a fight for equality.