A Universal Right

“I’ve just concluded… that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Barack Obama declared at a press conference last week. In an unprecedented move, the President took sides on one of America’s most divisive issues.

I, for one, breathed a sigh of relief. Our President finally conceded that he has the obligation to defend the full marital rights of America’s LGBTQ citizens. Yet while I now believe this declaration has been a long time coming, my opinion, like that of the President, has evolved significantly over the years before finally coming to rest on this conclusion.

Not so long ago, I did not support the right of same-sex couples to marry. Civil unions and domestic partnerships were all fine in my book, but marriage was solely meant for heterosexual couples. This opinion stemmed from my limited understanding of what marriage truly was. Because I grew up with married, opposite sex parents and without frequent exposure to homosexual couples, it seemed only natural to me that same-sex couples be relegated to civil union-status; and yet, I was never truly content with this strictly heterosexual definition of marriage. Deep inside, I knew that the same rights to which opposite-sex couples were entitled should be extended to same-sex couples. Still, I remained silent.

Now, looking back, I question why I suppressed my true beliefs. Why did I not vocalize my beliefs as I usually do? This apathy arose partly from my fear of the stigma attached to supporting gay marriage, especially at a young age. Standing up for gay marriage didn’t get you very far in the middle school social scene. It raised the eyebrows of your friends and family. If you openly supported same-sex marriage, your community started to question your sexuality. As a heterosexual adolescent, these were not challenges that I wanted to voluntarily deal with. Given all these factors, I silenced the voice within me that begged my conscious mind to consider the right of same-sex couples to marry.

My choice to not stand up for same-sex marriage also stemmed from my confusion about the nature of homosexuality. Was it a particular type of behavior or social etiquette? Was it a choice, or was it biological? These questions had surfaced when I started to question my stance on same-sex marriage. Yet, gradually, I realized that answering these questions would not change whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. No matter how I chose to define homosexuality, all American citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, were and are entitled to the same rights. Just like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples in a committed, monogamous relationship should have the right to marry.

When Barack Obama declared his support for gay marriage, he did so understanding that marriage is the official, legal union of one individual to another and not necessarily just between one man and one woman. For years, Obama wavered in his support for gay marriage, unsure of how to define marriage. He sometimes supported civil unions and other times stopped just short of unequivocally supporting same-sex marriage. Finally, however, the President acted on principle, not on politics. He put aside his political concerns about the public’s reaction to his declaration. He ignored the criticism and the outrage. Like myself, he simply acted on what he felt was right.

I personally refuse to live in a society in which infidelity goes unpunished but loyalty is penalized. Will divorce rates decrease once gay marriage is legalized? Probably not. Will spouses not cheat on one another once same-sex couples can marry? I doubt it. But it does not matter. Marriage, whether same-sex or not, is a human right that can never and should never be revoked.

Junius Williams is a two-year Lower from Newark, NJ.