(41) Homosexuality in US
One of the biggest annual events in San Francisco is the Gay Pride Parade. This is a half-hour long event big enough to almost block the traffic of Market Street, the heart of San Francisco. When I attended, I was surprised to learn that the beautiful “ladies” dancing on parade floats were actually men.
Since they knew I was a U.S. congressman, they stopped in front of me to blow kisses and exaggerate their dance moves. They just seemed too beautiful and sexy for me to believe that they were men. If one follows Main Street for a while, he or she will see the City Hall, and then five blocks later the Castro District, the main neighborhood for San Francisco gays and lesbians. After the parade, I went to the district, where I saw many gay or transgender couples arm in arm. Watching them French kiss on public streets was very uncomfortable for me to watch.
During the 1990s, as gay people who had been hiding from society “came out of the closet,” social groups were formed to protect their rights. They would wear small earrings as a kind of self-identification, and soon they were a full scale part of mainstream U.S. society. Eventually famous people that had been hiding their sexuality came out and announced that they were gay. One of them was a former House Republican from Arizona, and another was Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts and the chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services. He openly became a strong advocate for the gay community.
However, a major issue developed in how gays were accepted in the military. The navy, in particular, had a major headache in trying to figure out how their sailors’ morale would be affected by knowing their fellow service members were gay, as well as how they would react to having to live together with gay service members for several months at sea, sleeping in small bunkers, without any contact with women. The Department of Defense came up with the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy as a desperate measure. This meant that gay service members should not announce their sexual orientation, and other service members should not ask; in other words, being gay should remain a personal secret.
In the larger social sense, the movement for closeted gays to come out and stop hiding their sexuality could not be stopped. Eventually the lobbying began for the legalization of marriage by gay and lesbian couples. Congress decided to pass the buck to each state, letting them decide on gay marriage for themselves. There are now a number of states, such as Hawaii, Vermont, California, Alaska, and New York, which allow same sex marriages. Also, the gay movement has spread all over the world with amazing speed. Starting in the Netherlands, countries like Norway, South Africa, and Spain have also begun to recognize same sex marriages. There are even news reports that President Barack Obama does not oppose same sex marriages.
Gay activists have now taken the next step and lobbied for a bill that gives gay couples the same benefits from the government as other married couples, such as tax exemptions for a dependent. I remember gay activists coming to my office a couple of times on this issue. Later, as their power became stronger, they pressed for a change in adoption laws to allow them to adopt children. This made Republicans in Congress extremely concerned. Until then, most congressional Republicans took the position of leaving the matter of gay couples to each state. Now, many Republicans believed that they had stepped over the limit.
Questions began to be raised about whom the children would call a father or a mother and whether they could be raised normally by two same sex parents. Lobbyists for churches were in lines in front of the Capitol every day to lobby against same sex marriage. At the same time, a strong anti-same sex marriage movement started, with Christians claiming that it is the will of God for a man and a woman to unite, to give birth, and to raise children. On the other end of the spectrum, an English dictionary removed “one man and one woman” from its definition of “marriage.”
Things were complicated by an existing law that same sex marriage in one state should be recognized by the other states. This posed a thorny issue ― if a legally married same sex couple decided to relocate to another state which does not recognize that marriage, then is the marriage still legal? Does this mean that same sex married couples could only live in states that allowed same sex marriage?
Congress responded by passing the Defense of Marriage Act in 1995, which gave the right not to recognize a same sex marriage from another state to a state that had passed a law against same sex marriages. Fifteen states passed laws that disallow same sex marriage the same year. Unfortunately, a court in Nebraska made a decision that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, which made the situation even more complicated.
The issue of marriage has always been complicated in the U.S. An inter-racial marriage was not allowed legally until the early 1960s ― which means that, for a long time, it was illegal for a white person and an Asian to get married. Even now, gay people continue debating on the issue of marriage, asking where in the U.S. Constitution it says that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Since young people are overwhelmingly in favor of allowing same sex marriage, it is expected that same sex marriage will become legal in the United States within a decade.
Korea is different. Article 36 in the Chapter 2 of the Korean Constitution says, “Marriage and family life shall be entered into and sustained on the basis of individual dignity and equality of the sexes, and the state shall do everything in its power to achieve that goal.” In this respect, the Korean Constitution seems much more refined than the U.S. Constitution.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).