Thank you to the Source and Mike Bookey for writing about the important issue of marriage equality last week. I am the "big bearded dude" in the photos, writing to comment on my being the "unlikely face" of the marriage equality movement in Central Oregon. My positions with Basic Rights Oregon and now Human Dignity Coalition may make me the most visible local advocate on this issue. However, the true faces of marriage inequality in Oregon are the thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples and their families being denied the freedom to marry by the Oregon Constitution.
Same-sex couples want to get married for the same reason I did, and most couples do, namely to make that vast and courageous expression of love and commitment to their beloved. Take a moment to imagine the pain of knowing it would be illegal - illegal! - to make that expression to the person you are so deeply in love with. Now take one more step and imagine the suffering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people who remain stigmatized for simply being who they really are or for openly loving who they really love; the bewildered despair of teenagers whose parents reject and punish them and whose schoolmates bully them just for being their authentic selves.
These are the souls who wear the anguished faces of marriage inequality and LGBTQ discrimination in Central Oregon and beyond. It was taking the uniquely human step into imaginative empathy with them, and recognizing no one should have to live this way, that led me to begin advocating for equality for LGBTQ people and all people.
Which brings me to the "unlikely" part. Besides the fact that ultimate macho dude Clint Eastwood is a vocal supporter of marriage equality, I do recognize many people assume that a straight person is an unlikely advocate for LGBTQ rights. I find this assumption to be a telling comment on the current state of our society.
We are a nation founded on the principle of the inherent equality of all human beings and on the right to equal justice under the law. Yet, we are consumed daily by a demanding economic system that teaches pursuit of self-interest is the highest and most efficient behavior. Finding surprise in a person advocating for justice beyond their own self-interest looks to me like the intrusion of capitalistic rationales into fundamental principles of justice. While this may sound academic, the touted superiority of capitalistic behaviors in all areas of society is the excuse that huge corporations and other groups use to manipulate the law and justice systems to their own advantages at the expense of others.
The good news is that millions of people do not buy into this interpretation of our system. Occupy Bend is a great local example, as are the many buy-local campaigns, bank transfer actions and Latino and immigrant-rights movements. I may appear an unlikely advocate for marriage equality to many, but I am one of millions of straight allies working for the freedom of same-sex couples to marry in Oregon and all over the country. Some of Human Dignity Coalition's most stalwart volunteers, on marriage equality and other LGBTQ issues, are straight allies. We work in a long tradition of majority allies for the rights of oppressed populations, including people working against slavery, and those who have worked for civil rights, immigrants' rights, equality for women, the rights of indigenous populations, human rights in other nations and innumerable other campaigns and actions.
I look forward to the day it would not even occur to people to think anyone is an unlikely advocate for anyone else's rights, and even more to the day, as we social justice advocates like to say, that we are no longer needed.
On a final note, and as the Source noted online, Basic Rights Oregon made a decision last week that the long-term work to bring marriage equality to Oregon would be better served by waiting beyond 2012 to go forward with a ballot measure. While support for same sex marriage has increased significantly across the state, a loss in 2012 at the ballot would just be too devastating for same-gender couples and families and for the ongoing progress of the movement. Human Dignity Coalition, Basic Rights Oregon, Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and others will continue working hard to talk to Oregonians about the reasons same-gender marriage is fair, just and beneficial to Oregon families.
Bruce Morris is an attorney and the executive director of Human Dignity Coalition in Bend and a former staff member of Basic Rights Oregon and the Rural Organizing Project. He lives in Bend with his wife.