By Jillian Fisher
Last week I was asked to offer solutions about a current “global issue” that I found of utmost importance. While I research an array of policy matters and have done work with various social issues, one of the issues that I am most passionate about is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community’s access to equal rights. Shortly before I was asked this question, in my inbox laid the news heading, “Utah Governor Strips Marriage Rights from Lawfully Wed Same-Sex Couples.” While this news, unfortunately, was less surprising than the original news of the federal court striking down the gay marriage ban only three weeks earlier, it still made my stomach sink.
As I started to draft my essay and key solutions to this problem, I stopped to reflect about the key word, global. Is the fact that Utah and 32 other states do not allow same-sex marriage and federal benefits really a global issue? In international news, the LGBT community is subject to much harsher treatment such as severe beatings, imprisonment, torture, and death. Even in the United States, where hate crimes and school bullying are recurrent, it seems the problem of not being able to file taxes jointly is relatively minor.
However, in the today’s criticisms of “first world problems” I reject this ability to downplay the substance of certain rights, including marriage, which the United Nations has listed as an international human rights standard. Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. I’m sure there is a more complex way of discussing the importance of one right over another, but as this theory is well known and taught in basic psychology and sociology classes, I believe it paints the necessary picture. Sure, developed countries take certain necessities for granted such as clean water, however, this does not mean that we should not demand continual progression and acceptance of other rights. In terms of LGBT rights, homosexuality is currently criminalized in 77 countries, and until 2003, the United States was one of them. I reject the sentiment that the LGBT community should be “thankful” that they are not imprisoned and should not be given the full rights and dignity that 16 other countries give to their citizens.
The reason why same-sex marriage and the criminalization of homosexuality are both a “global issue” is because both are due to being treated as second class citizens, not being given the basic dignity and human rights as everyone else. The fact that Utah, a conservative state, was (would have been) the 18th state that allowed same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repealed is a major victory and nothing to scoff. However, LGBT advocates are the first to tell you they have a lot more work ahead.
The prejudices and stigmatization this community faces socially is connected to their continuous systematic and legal discrimination. And despite my flippant remark about not filing taxes jointly, there are other issues that come to surface about committed couples not being legally recognized. Legal marriage provides multiple economic benefits including filing taxes, healthcare, eligibility for social security benefits (such as survivor benefits), recognition of beneficiary among death, and more social benefits such as co-parent adoption and healthcare access, specifically decision-making and visitation rights in hospitals. Most importantly, legal marriage offers the symbol of love and commitment that straight couples have the privilege and choice of making. The right to love. Not even at the top of the hierarchy chart.