It’s heartbreaking to read statements from same-sex couples such as this, which appeared in the New York Times coverage of the state’s first same-sex marriages, in which Ray Durand, 68, declares “We feel a little more human today,” as he formalizes his union with his partner, 79-year-old Dale Shields. The pair has endured a 42-year relationship during which the trials and oppressiveness of society and politics I can only begin to imagine. I am nonetheless moved by their victory despite my distinctly different experiences as a young heterosexual woman.
The way I see it, encroachment on anyone’s civil rights is encroachment on my rights. The battle for LGBT rights bears as much weight as the battle for civil rights that black Americans endure(d) and likewise that of women.
I also relate these battles to the struggles that Jews have endured throughout history. As a non-practicing Jew, there are still certain things that I draw deep connections to in terms of my Jewish heritage. Being the descendant of a population that has faced extreme oppression since nearly the beginning of civilization, I have always put a lot of weight on tolerance for others.
While I have long held onto these values, my visit to Israel cemented my dedication to tolerance and equality for all people. Trekking to the peak of Mount Masada, where several hundred Jews committed mass suicide to avoid becoming enslaved by the Romans, instilled me with a very serious and extreme sense of duty to not only exercise tolerance but advocate for it as well.
On many levels, though, imagining the oppressive atmosphere that exists for LGBT folks today is somewhat beyond me, because I’ve never been discriminated against for my sexual preferences or faced many of the consequences for these choices that the LGBT population does. Still, knowing that my great grandfather snuck out of Poland as a stowaway in a lifeboat to reach America–a holocaust refugee who was forced to leave his mother behind in his choice for survival–I empathize and ache for those who could face oppression in America today, 100 years later, in a purportedly free nation.
Legal parameters that specifically exclude same-sex couple and LGBT individuals, including ballot and law language such as that seen in California’s Prop 8, which began: “Eliminates rights of same-sex couples…,” bear a haunting echo to Germany’s antisemitic Nuremberg laws, albeit with less severity.
Of course, marriage is just one of many, and perhaps less severe forms of discrimination that LGBT individuals face today. While Maine and Oregon continue to uphold laws based on language similar to California’s overturned (yet passed by popular vote) Prop 8, numerous other states have statutes in place that allow thousands of men and women to bear the burden of facing eviction or even being fired because of their sexual preference, and with zero recourse.
Oppression is oppression, and the removal and restriction of one group’s rights is the mud that forms the foundation of any totalitarian Fascist society.
With antisemitism on the rise in many parts of the world today–England’s parliament has considered legislation that would remove teaching about the holocaust from history lessons because it has been proposed as offensive to Islamic holocaust deniers–the struggles that the LGBT population face can only strike an even deeper chord with my sense of fear for losing ground on the equality front for every person. Suppression hurts everyone, and the time for fear-engrossed parties to realize this fact is quite overdue.