The path towards same-sex marriage

By He Shifei
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 20, 2012
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On Wednesday, May 9, U.S. President Barack Obama said publicly that, "I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." The endorsement not only marked the watershed of Obama's personal ambivalence on the issue, but also a historic milestone in the country's struggle for civil rights.

From 2004 to 2008, Obama repeatedly stressed that what he believed as marriage was "between a man and a woman." Yet, in the years to come, he has taken steps to uphold civil rights of same-sex partners, and has had "evolving" feelings towards gay and lesbian marriage.

Of course, taking a definitive stance on the politically charged and controversial issue at this time is by no means a coincidence for the president. In November there will be an inevitably close election; while in the immediate term, a $40,000-a-plate fund raiser at actor George Clooney's house on Thursday night, May 10 was expected to raise over $12 million for Mr. Obama from affluent libertarians who are more inclined to support gay marriage.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s declaration of support to same-sex marriage Sunday, May 6 and opponent Republican Mitt Romney's reaffirmed opposition on homosexual marriage and civil unions all added to the political complexity of the endorsement.

Last summer, I saw the entire New Y ork City skyline lit up in rainbow colors celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage. Arguments and debates surrounding politics of the legislation were as fierce as always. However, it was not the political dynamics that impressed audiences like me. It was two gray-hair gentlemen holding a banner that said "in love for sixty years, finally married," as well as heterosexuals applauding the advance of civil rights in the country.

As a Chinese person, I can't help but imagine how this debate would take place China. I know that same-sex marriage is hardly a prominent issue in Chinese society, due to different cultural and religious contexts. But it is emerging, in absence of sufficient acknowledgement in the public spectrum.

In China, same-sex couples displaying intimate behavior in public is still an uncommon phenomenon. Upon seeing a display of public affection between a gay couple, onlookers would probably stare at them and whisper to each other, and would rarely shout or be visibly offended. It is a great relief to me that homosexuality is not that controversial an issue on a moral basis in China. Nonetheless, we all understand the psychological pressure it brings from spectators pointing their fingers.

It was only 16 years ago that Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which basically denied same-sex marriage. And about five years ago, it would be unimaginable that the President of the United States would ever publicly endorse gay marriage. The U.S. made its journey towards more openness and tolerance. Maybe China will as well.

It takes more than compassion for people who are not homosexual to support the rights of the minority. It is about economic security, political stability, social equality, and civilization.

I met a benign elderly Chinese gentleman earlier this week in Washington, DC who was proud of his booming family business. He recalled that back in his youth, daily supplies were rationed in China. While in most parts of the country, a person was allocated half a kilo of cooking oil per month, his province allowed only 0.15 kilogram.

Coming from such difficult times when basic necessities were not assured, I would not expect his generation to pay keen attention to issues like same-sex marriage. But nowadays, I am glad to see that more and more people of the younger generation are willing to support the "underprivileged few" regardless of their own self interest.

Only when people become aware and tolerant enough with those who are "different" and have the ability and appropriate means to care about the minority, will China see profound changes towards supporting gays and lesbians, people who are mentally or physically impaired, and so on.

Even though the United States has jut lifted the curtain for new hope in terms of civil rights, it is still way too early to celebrate. As an aide to the Obama Administration said, according to the New York Times, the President's announcement has no legal impact, and there are no substantive steps planned to back up the public stance. Moreover, the action to throw the issue of same-sex marriage in the center of a presidential campaign itself could constrain the resolution. When people are forced to take sides in accordance with their political beliefs, rather than moral, religious, and humanitarian concerns, the civil rights of homosexuals become more complex.

Without such political and religious burden, China may be able to move faster in supporting its people. It would be a bright day for me if one day everyone could celebrate the wedding of a same-sex couple openly, not for their gender, but because that they are good friends, diligent coworkers, and honest people.

The author is a Chinese freelance journalist currently living in the U.S. Her research interests include government, politics and policy studies.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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