The following is a chapter from Money, Sex, Power & Faith.
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“Marriage should be between a spouse and a spouse, not a gender and a gender.”- Hendrik Hertzberg
Americans, and the world at large, are becoming more aware and accepting about the range of human sexuality and gender. Homosexuality has been quite popular throughout human history, yet with those of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic heritage seeking to grow their numbers and populate the earth, it has long been established a crime against nature, possibly due to the fact that it doesn’t result in progeny. However, as the world faces questions of overpopulation and a surge in extremism, people seem to be releasing dogmatic beliefs and embracing the ability to let others make their own choices about their own sexuality.
Our culture has long honored the dualistic view of the world, easily extrapolating everything into categories of good and evil, right and wrong, left and right, black and white, conservative and liberal, and male and female. Yet this tight grip on an alleged reality has been slipping out of our hands as we have been opening up to the gray areas and rainbows that extend between the extremes we’ve entertained. Not only have we opened up to the rights of homosexuals to love who they want to love and live how they want to live, but also for those who wish to transcend gender altogether.
Until 1962, sodomy was a felony in every US state, with a variety of punishments, like fifteen years in a Michigan prison or death in Idaho. Illinois took the lead by becoming the first to decriminalize it, and by the end of the decade, other states started to join.
In 1973, Texans, having recognized the joys of sodomy within the confines of heterosexual relationships, changed their anti-sodomy statute so that only those who engaged in anal or oral sex with someone of the same gender would be charged with a misdemeanor. Yet, thirty years later, in 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional, invalidating them in the fourteen states that still had them on the books: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
However, just because sodomy was no longer criminalized did not mean that the United States was quite ready to fully embrace homosexuality. In 1998, Alaska and Hawaii became the first states to pass constitutional amendments either banning same-sex marriage or vowing to only recognize male and female unions. By 2012, thirty states had passed similar restrictions on relational liberty. Yet in 2000, Vermont became the first state to adopt a civil unions bill, giving same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples, including marriage.
By 2015, thirty-seven states had adopted laws to legalize same-sex marriages, either by court decision, popular vote, or state legislature, some of them reversing constitutional amendments they had passed only a few years before. The quickest turnaround was in North Carolina, where a law was passed in 2012 that the only domestic legal union that would be recognized was that of a man and a woman, but was ruled unconstitutional by a US District Court judge in 2014. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that all fifty states must perform and recognize same-sex marriages, with all of the accompanying rights and responsibilities of opposite-sex marriages.
Yet the shift from the old Judeo/Christian/Islamic views of marriage as a pro-creating union between a man and a woman to the simple decree that two people would love one another was not without its share of conflicts. As homosexuality became accepted within the culture and more homosexuals came out of the closet, there was rising tension in those who held to the belief that it was evil and took matters into their own hands to punish those who defied their chosen lifestyle. The term “hate crime”, which originally referred to crimes motivated by a hatred of someone based on their race, religion, or ethnicity, came to refer to crimes against homosexuals, transgender people, and the rest of the LGBTQ community as well.
Although transgender people are now more readily seen in popular culture through television shows and movies, the last few years have also seen a new surge of violence against them from those who claim stringent beliefs about what men and women should be. Human rights advocates state that every week, one or two people are shot, stabbed, burned, or otherwise killed for being transgender.
Transgender people can be noted throughout history and in a variety of traditions, but the term “transgender” was not coined until the late 1960s in a handful of publications. Most US states now have laws allowing people to change their assigned gender on their birth certificates with a note from their doctor, but not all of them require surgery. Many still don’t understand the concept, and it may still be a few years before the ignorance and fear subsides throughout our culture. Yet just as with the movements for civil rights based on race and gender that have come before, and are still in the works, with awareness comes understanding.
“When people struggling against an injustice have no hope that anything will ever change, they use their strength to survive,” wrote Susan Stryker in her book Transgender History, “when they think that their actions matter, that same strength becomes a force for positive change.”
Some say that change is truly the only constant in life, and others say that the more things change the more they stay the same.
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