Sixty-one percent of my fellow North Carolinians think that homosexuals should not have the right to get married or form civil partnerships. Never mind that gay marriage was already illegal in the Tar Heel State.
Living in a relative oasis of open-mindedness like Durham can make one complacent. “Obama took NC in 2008,” I said to myself. “How could we possibly deny an oppressed group of people their civil rights?” But in the sober light of day I feel like a chump for entertaining such a utopian fantasy.
Fran Lebowitz has questioned why this issue in particular is so important: “It seems to me that these are the two most confining institutions on the planet: marriage and the military. Why would you be beating down the doors to get in? Usually a fight for freedom is a fight for freedom. This is the opposite…People used to pretend to be gay to get out of going in the army.”
That’s dark and funny and also true. But of course gay people’s desire to get married ultimately has less to do with the institution of marriage and more to do with wanting to be measured by the same normative yardstick as heterosexuals, whatever the merits of that yardstick might or might not be. Marriage is hard and divorce is common. Serving in the military has obvious risks and all too often, tragic outcomes. For better or worse, these are the institutions we associate with “freedom.”
Be that as it may, I am proud to say that, in the wake of last night’s vote, my own employer immediately announced that it would continue to offer same-sex partner benefits to its faculty and staff, as it has since 1994. Such benefits do not an egalitarian society make, but that does not make them any less necessary.
Until the homophobic generation dies off or capitulates, there is nothing to do but continue the fight. And so we will.