Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Privileges of Heterosexuality

“Heterosexual Privilege” is a term used to refer to a society’s preferential treatment in regards to couples or persons whose sexual orientation is heterosexual. There are many ways in which this kind of prejudice is displayed. Many heterosexuals do not even know that they are actually receiving preferential treatment until they have been educated by a homosexual friend or family member.
Some of the benefits of being heterosexual are not even fiscal; they can be very broad. One such benefit would be the ability to show affection to the person they are dating or married to. While we live in a “free” country, many homosexuals are still afraid of public displays of affection due to the fear that they would be harmed or verbally abused. There have been many instances where people have been attacked not because they are homosexual, but simply because they were suspected of being so. It wasn’t until 2003 that the Supreme Court ruled that homosexuals have the right to engage in sexual activities in the privacy of their own home (Lawrence v. Texas).
There have been many laws to the detriment of the gay community. At one point in US history, it was illegal to serve a known homosexual alcohol and for more than two known homosexuals to gather in one place. It wasn’t until the Stonewall Riots that the community started fighting this oppression and it quickly spread across the country. Because of this wave of protest, there were some legal backlashes. In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that it was not unconstitutional for a state to deny a marriage license for same-sex couples (Baker v. Nelson).
The Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 not only said that the federal government could not recognize same-sex marriage, but that each state had to decide for themselves whether or not to allow same-sex marriages on the state level. Many have called for a Federal Marriage Amendment which would effectively ban all same-sex marriages on the federal and state level by adding an amendment to the constitution.
There are still some people who don’t understand why marriage is “such a big deal” to the gay community. What they don’t understand is that there are over 1,000 rights and responsibilities that come along with lawful marriage. The obvious ones being spousal medical decisions or the transfer of property upon death without taxation but there are many more including: legal status with stepchildren, right of survivorship of custodial trust, right to change surname (at no charge) upon marriage, right to enter a prenuptial agreement, domestic violence protection orders, sponsor husband/wife for immigration benefits, per diem payment to spouse for federal civil service employees when relocating, threats agains spouses of various federal employees is a federal crime, spousal privilege in court cases (meaning you don’t have to divulge incriminating evidence against the spouse), alimony or child support, making or revoking post-mortem anatomical gifts, continuation of employer-sponsored health benefits, permission to make funeral arrangements, joint tax filing, insurance coverages, funeral and bereavement leave and so, so, so many more things. Remember, those were just the benefits of marriage currently being denied to homosexual couples.
Another major issue is gay adoption. In many sates, the laws are very ambiguous so to allow for individual judges to discriminate against homosexual couples. Four states specifically ban homosexual adoption, nineteen allow full adoption and one allows for stepchild adoption. The rest are considered “ambiguous” so that there is no “official” policy but it is usually very difficult for homosexual couples to adopt. The one redeeming factor is that a federal judge ruled that states have to recognize out-of-state adoptions because of the Full Faith and Credit Clause (Adar v. Smith). However, one can see how many obstacles there are for a couple wanting to adopt a child.
Yet another legal impediment is job security. 21 states and the District of Columbia have specifically banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the work place (Texas is not one of them). While crimes committed to one member of a community (hate crimes) now includes sexual orientation and gender identity, there has been no such federal law in reference to employment discrimination.
Many of the things mentioned above have been about the legal implications of homosexuality. That is only the tip of the iceberg. When one remembers the social ramifications of being gay in our society, it becomes apparent that heterosexuals have a somewhat “privileged” life. Take, for instance, the very idea of coming out. According to the Ali Forney Center, 25% of LGBT youth are still kicked out of their homes for coming out. According to the Center for American Progress 25-40% of all homeless youth are LGBT, yet only 5-10% of all youth in the US are homeless. 1 out of every 3 LGB youths attempt suicide at least once (Trevor Project). 1 out of 4 transgendered youths attempt suicide at least once. 61% of LGBT report feeling unsafe at school (GLSEN). 55% of transgendered students have reported being physically attacked at school. As shocking as these statistics are, only 5-6% of American students are LGBT.
No one is saying that heterosexuals should feel guilty about being who they are. Being straight is beautiful and wonderful because it makes people happy. At the same time, so does homosexuality. Until we, as a society, demand equal rights and treatment for all, we cannot grow. We can’t charge forward into the future. Every minority has had to fight for its rights. Right now, its the LGBT community. My hope is that this will be the last one; the last time that the majority reprimands and abuses a minority for doing or being something they have no control over.