California Forum

A muted celebration of marriage equality

An attendee of an Orlando Pulse nightclub vigil holds a homemade sign that says “Love not hate” on June 13.
An attendee of an Orlando Pulse nightclub vigil holds a homemade sign that says “Love not hate” on June 13. Orlando Sentinel

A year ago Sunday, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that same-sex couples had the same constitutional right as other-sex couples to wed the person they love. I expected the first anniversary of that monumental decision would be a time of celebration and joy.

But how can it be in light of the Orlando massacre?

Since that horrific day, like so many other members of the LGBT community and beyond, I have been dealing with an array of emotions: mostly profound sadness – crying often, especially when reading about the victims of the massacre, most of whom were only beginning adulthood. Also, I have been touched deeply by the outpouring of compassion from so many, including members of communities of faith, who are committed to keeping the memory of the slain alive and to ensuring something positive comes from his horror. That I have been distraught and moved does not surprise me.

But the depth of my anger, however, has startled me. This is not an emotion to which I am accustomed.

For most of my adult life, I strived to be accepting of those with contrary points of view even when those perspectives indicated that I was somehow less worthy and my relationships less meaningful due to my sexual orientation.

I recall being astonished some years ago when then-state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, speaking about gay rights at the law school at which I work, responded forcefully to a student’s suggestion that he was entitled to support depriving LGBT folks of basic legal rights based on his religious beliefs. Her reply was direct: Bigotry is bigotry, even if hidden behind religion.

It took me a long time to get to the point where a response like that would be simply unacceptable. But enough is enough. Yes, bigotry is bigotry, and hate speech, even if couched in religious terms, is just that – hate speech. And it has consequences.

For too long, gay people have been vilified in this country. We are criticized for pushing a “gay agenda,” which entails seemingly outlandish goals such as not being fired from our jobs due to whom we love. We are condemned for hurricanes and other natural disasters. We are accused of trying to subvert American culture. Our very existence is deemed sinful. Thus, it is not surprising that the LGBT community is the one most victimized by hate crimes.

Some forms of anti-gay disparagement are blatant. It is sickening that my beloved hometown of Sacramento garnered national attention because a local so-called religious figure decried that more gay people had not been massacred in the Orlando nightclub.

Others have made similar public statements including a preacher who hosted an event attended by several GOP presidential candidates. Just weeks before the Orlando massacre, a Republican congressman quoted scripture advocating death for gay people, calling his colleagues who supported non-discrimination protections for LGBT persons “sinners.”

But many other forms of anti-gay denigration are more subtle. Is it not telling that the murderer’s father was quick to attribute his son’s actions to his son’s dislike of gays rather than to his religion? And what message is conveyed by those who condemned the Orlando killing while carefully omitting the facts that nearly all the victims were LGBT and that the killer selected a gay bar as the venue?

And, what does it say that days after Congress provided its moment of silence to allegedly honor the Orlando victims, the House of Representatives killed a bill that would have provided job protections to LGBT individuals?

As we mark the one-year anniversary of marriage equality, it should not go unnoticed that only one of the Republican candidates for president did not advocate overturning the ruling. And Donald Trump has suggested that his Supreme Court appointees would do just that.

For a year it has been the law that LGBT individuals have the same rights to marriage as their heterosexual counterparts. Yet, I continue to receive missive after missive from conservative religious organizations that insist on putting the term in quotes (“marriage”) to make clear that to them these are not real marriages.

Just days ago, I received a fundraising appeal from the anti-gay Family Research Council, noting that “God has raised up” the organization to raise $1.5 million to fight marriage equality and efforts to “turn America into a radical, European-style state” that seeks to “remove biblical morality.” There was no mention of the Orlando killings.

Yes, there may be an ongoing culture war but the labeling of LGBT folks as dangerous, inferior, predatory or sinful has consequences that include the taking of human life. Intolerance even if in the name of religion has become intolerable, and it must stop.

Lawrence C. Levine is a law professor at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Contact him at