The social obligations of inclusion
July 13th, 2011
“Fröken Salander, if I rescind your declaration of incompetence, that will mean that you have exactly the same rights as all other citizens. It also means that you have the same obligations. It is therefore your duty to manage your finances, pay taxes, obey the law, and assist the police in investigations of serious crimes. So I am summoning you to be questioned like any other citizen who has information that might be vital to an investigation.”
The force of this logic seemed to sink in. She pouted and looked angry, but she stopped arguing.
“When the police have interviewed you, the leader of the preliminary investigation—in this case the prosecutor general— will decide whether you will be summoned as a witness in any future legal proceedings. Like any other Swedish citizen, you can refuse to obey such a summons. How you act is none of my concern, but you do not have carte blanche. If you refuse to appear, then like any other adult you may be charged with obstruction of justice or perjury. There are no exceptions.”
Salander’s expression darkened even more.
“So, what is your decision?” Judge Iversen said.
After thinking it over for a minute, Salander gave a curt nod.
- The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson
The funny thing about rights is that they come with obligations. The right to vote, to choose the people who will make the laws that effect your lives, also has the obligation that you learn the issues, select a candidate and show up on a Tuesday in November to pull the lever. The right to plead your defense against governmental accusations to a panel of people just like you also comes with the excruciatingly irritating necessity to occasionally be one of the jurors on that panel.
Like Salander, the gay community has been in many ways been declared incompetent and childlike. Religious leaders have judged us broken, unaware of what is best for us, and in need to have others make decisions on our behalf. Convinced that our lives demonstrate that we are incapable of choosing what is best for us, they tell us what our choices should be: celibacy, therapy, repentance, or even just manning up and doing what their doctrines say is right.
And politicians have readily agreed, separating from us the rights, responsibilities and trappings of adulthood. Marriage is for responsible adults. Children are for responsible adults. We are not proper role models and should not be allowed employment that would give us respect in the eyes of children. Citizenship is for capable adults, and gay people have been deemed incapable of living up to the full rights of citizenship.
Even employers made hiring and advancement decisions based on what they believed that our family structure says about our maturity. A family man with a mortgage is presumed to be a more stable reliable employee than a single man who might party all night and blow off work. And a woman incapable of finding herself a good husband may not be well suited for a job which requires managing abilities. A presentable mate at the company social gatherings has always been a factor in advancement, and gay men and women – being “single” by definition – were at a disadvantage.
Knowing these presumptions to be false, for the past four decades we have fought for our rights as an equal citizen, one that need no overseer or patronizing decision maker, one that can choose what doctrines to believe and capable of social contributions equal to others.
And we have plead our case well and our evidence has been compelling.
Employers have come to see the gay man in the ten year relationship as being more similar to a married man than to a playboy. Many churches have found a lesbian parishioner to be no less spiritual mature than any worshiper and equally capable of pastoral care. Friends, family, coworkers and neighbors have discovered that fears about our inability to live a healthy, happy, balanced and responsible life were unfounded.
And finally, politicians have looked into their hearts and found that if you set aside bias (and reelection goals), gay men and women are entitled to the role of full and equal citizen promised to them by their constitutional inheritance.
So bit by bit, state by state, the doctrines, the policies, and the laws that have declared us incompetent are being changed.
But this is not Christmas morning and Santa Claus. And we are now having to face the realization that with the rights of citizenship come the responsibilities. And with full inclusion into society comes social obligation and expectation.
Those who malign us are not entirely baseless in their accusations. Our community has at times given itself license for childish excess and antisocial behavior. Being denied responsibility, we have at times behaved irresponsibly. Being ostracized, we have responded with messages and images designed to shock and offend. And being victims of social institutions, we have given ourselves permission to thwart social protocol and turn decorum on its head.
But as we gain responsibility and self-determination, as ostracization fades and social institutions expand to include us, such behavior no longer has an excuse. As we become full members of society, we now have to consider what impact our choices have on society.
And while much of the above addresses the collective mature response of a community, this change is also experienced on the individual level. As those who know us have come to believe us when we say that we are no different from our brothers and sisters, they have placed on us the same expectations and social obligations as our brothers and sisters.
And this has not been, nor will it continue to be, an easy transition. (Chicago Tribune)
As New York stood poised to become the latest state to legalize same-sex marriage, Michael Koresky felt the pressure deepen from friends and family eager to see him and his boyfriend of six years tie the knot.
But Koresky and his partner, who live in Brooklyn, aren’t sure wedding bells are in the cards. Amid exultant celebrations of marriage equality, they’ve found themselves in the awkward position of coming out of the we’re-not-sure-we-want-to-get-married closet.
They’re reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on a wedding just because it’s expected, and are hesitant to elope for fear loved ones would be disappointed they weren’t included.
The men already exchanged rings as a sign of their commitment to one another, so they question the purpose of a wedding.
“What would it mean?” Koresky said. “Who is it for?”
Koresky is not alone in resenting family pressures to conform. While valuing the right to marry, some also maintain a firm grip on their right not to marry and see social pressures as intrusive. What right has anyone else to tell them how their relationship should be structured? Who is the wedding really for? What business is it of theirs anyway?
And it is not just parental demands for a string quartet and open bar that we will encounter. Employers are taking steps to pressure employees to tie the knot. (NYTimes)
Now that same-sex marriage has been legalized in New York, at least a few large companies are requiring their employees to tie the knot if they want their partners to qualify for health insurance.
Corning, I.B.M. and Raytheon all provide domestic partner benefits to employees with same-sex partners in states where they cannot marry. But now that they can legally wed in New York, five other states and the District of Columbia, they will be required to do so if they want their partner to be covered for a routine checkup or a root canal.
But some of the same activists who have led the call for legal marriage equality have objected to marriage equality in the workplace. “That isn’t fair, marriage is still a complicated legal decision,” they insist. And, besides, what business is it of theirs anyway. Why should benefits be tied to a marriage license?
But society has a vested interest in relationship stability. Korelsky’s parents have a good reason to wish him encumbered with legal obligations to the person that he has introduced into their lives and whom they have grown to love. Raytheon has a good reason to wish that asset entanglement gives a sales manager added incentive to work out problems and keep the relationship stable. And your tax-paying neighbors have good reason to wish that you have legal as well as emotional obligations should one of you require care.
With our new inclusion into society as equal members, we will continue to face the social obligations and expectations that other members share. Aunt Thelma will wonder (in a voice louder than she realizes) why you haven’t settled down yet. Mom will discreetly slip Bride Magazine into your bag. Your boss will not-quite-jokingly inquire when you’re going make an honest woman out of her. And all of them will expect you to be as shocked as they are by some of the more free-spirited elements of our community.
Change is coming. But I don’t think that it is change we need to fear. And much of it is occurring organically anyway.
Couples with babies already are finding that Saturday night out on the town is often more hassle than it’s worth. Those with children are abandoning places that they feel are not child-friendly, opting instead for inclusive family settings. And the option to marry is already encouraging gay men and women to ask themselves whether the new cute thing is worth the investment of time and effort – and whether they too can withstand a candid evaluation.
Further, none of this suggests that we must readily acquiesce to every demand and be assimilated to the point of extinguishing our culture or uniqueness. As we enter society as equal but openly gay, we bring not just ourselves, but also our traditions, our perspectives, and our wisdom.
Like all times when societies have merged people with different histories and traditions, some of the presumptions of the current culture will fall away to be replaced by what we have to share. I doubt that it will be as drastic as the abandonment of sexual exclusivity that Dan Savage recommends, but perhaps relationship power structures or role negotiation and dispute resolution will be effected by our experiences. Perhaps the gender assumptions which now have a tenuous hold will lose grip completely. And perhaps there will be aspects and attributes of same-sex marriage that never are quite identical to those of opposite-sex marriages, and that too is fine. We will have to wait and see.
This is going to be an exciting time, but it will not be easy.
Some in our community will be angry at the traitorous sellouts to heterosexist hegemony that dare question their individuality. Some will judge the world to be “judgmental” for daring to criticize their excess. Others will sadly reminisce about the days in which social rejection created a cohesive vibrant community of proud self-reliant outsiders. And perhaps all of us will know that something has been lost.
Nor will the new model be functional for all. Some will find that the expectations and demands of social inclusion are based on the assumption of opportunities that time will never bring again. Some of us have grown too independent, too self-reliant, too old and set in our ways to ever have any realistic expectation of marriage and children. And having grown accustomed to being outside, and having built a life accordingly, assimilation will simply never be a reality. And some, having found ways to make alternative structures functionally provide for their needs, may find life even more difficult as sympathies fade for counter-culture or non-conformist lifestyles.
But while growing up is a difficult and painful process, it is time that we individually and collectively rise to the challenge and take our place as full adult citizens of our community, family, and nation. Having proven ourselves worthy to be treated as adults, we owe it to ourselves to hold ourselves to that standard.