Perhaps one of the most nostalgic songs ever written in our music history would be the classic American ballad song, ‘Over the Rainbow’. In fact, the brilliance of this rendition has earned it an Academy Award and although written in 1939 even in modern time famous versions of it are still being made by the likes of Kylie Minogue and Carly Rose Soneclar. Not only does it draw memories of a childhood favorite, The Wizard of Oz play, but the lyrics are so evocative that it can connect with any aspect of our lives.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can’t I?
The song is introduced in the play when the lead character Dorothy is told by her distasteful Aunt Em to “find a place where you won’t be of any trouble”; feeling unwanted and alone, she wanders into a cornfield where she breaks into the song. One cannot help but feel a bit sentimental when the above verse of the song is being sung, the empathy we feel for Dorothy is overwhelming as we realize that in our lives, we experience that feeling of being ostracized and alone too. We experience a sense of being unwanted by society as if we were different or inferior to the standard.
Putting this perspective into our reality, these thoughts evoke memories of the Apartheid Era, the struggle for Women’s suffrage, the Rosa Parks incident, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, the Holocaust or frankly any recollection we have of people being ostracized or deemed inferior. While women and blacks all over the world have already won their struggle and now have equal rights, and Jews are no longer being sent to concentration camps, oppression of a stereotype or certain group of people still exists in our present time. We hear of prosecution of Muslim minorities in Burma, the Kurds of the Middle East, Christians in Nigeria and a list of other examples all over the world. However, one stereotype that was once considered taboo in society is about to make a historic breakthrough to secure equal rights with anyone in the world: the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual population (LGBT).
While the majority of countries in the world still do not recognize same-sex unions, and an even greater number do not allow same-sex marriage and there are even a number of states that outlaw the actuality of homosexuals, in recent years the fight for equal rights for members of the LGBT community has been gaining strength and have been achieving little, but very valuable, victories.
The month of April 2013 would have been the breakthrough period for same-sex marriage crusaders all over the world, three countries: Uruguay, New Zealand and France all passed laws that recognizes same-sex marriage as legal. A year ago, Brazil and Denmark also passed measures giving equal marriage privileges to homosexual couples and two years before that Argentina, Mexico, Iceland and Portugal approved same-sex marriage legislatures in 2011. While these are vital and morale boosting achievements for the LGBT struggle, the number of countries where gay marriage is legal only numbers to thirteen. Australia, Israel, Nepal and China have all crafted bills that seek to allow same-sex marriage but all faced defeats in their respective legislatures.
The biggest opponent for LGBT communities is undoubtedly conservative groups, which mostly translate to extremely religious factions. The most vocal of these religions would have to be Christianity, which as a majority argues that homosexuality is against the will of God and is “unnatural”. The most cliche example presented by Christian opponents of same-sex marriage bills is that God made “Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve”. Most of us have probably heard this line before, some of us regard this to be more hysterical and cheeky rather than a rational, formal argument against gays and lesbians. Islam as a religion can be translated as homophobic as well and in all over the world the most radical and extreme forms of discrimination hurled towards homosexuals are perpetrated by nations which embrace a theological Islamic law. In predominantly Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Oman and Qatar homosexual acts are punishable by fines and prison terms lasting to twenty years, while in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan the death penalty would be meted out for those caught doing such acts. There are also states which are secular but have fierce laws against homosexuals and LGBT rights such as Tonga and Papua New Guinea.
Religions use their scriptures as law to base their sentiments on, but as all laws there are different interpretations to it. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of condemnation of homosexuality in the Christian Bible is Leviticus 20:12 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” While in Islam, there is a hadith (passage attributed to Mohammad) which says: “When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes. Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to.”
Both passages clearly cite severe condemnation against homosexuality and homosexual acts, and while it is difficult to interpret them in a way which defends homosexuality the knowledge of context is essential. First of all, the written works of both religions dates back to thousands of years ago. The writings have been passed on generation after generation, in turn the integrity of these publications is questionable. It is noteworthy that the Vatican was plagued with politics in the Middle Ages, it is a possible scenario to consider that these scriptures were fabricated or modified to target a specific minority or a group of people who did not conform to the norms of their society. This can be linked to the concept of an “unnatural” being, perhaps what the idea of being “unnatural” actually meant “uncommon” or “unconventional” rather than an abomination.
At the same time, there are provisions in the Christian teachings that are accepted or tolerated in a Christian dominated society as well. The Second Commandment states that one is forbidden to worship any other master besides the Christian God, yet no Christian nation outlaws the practice of other religions nor do any Christian groups protest against the existence of other religions. The reason for this is because Christianity accepts the right of freedom of religion, that their God does not expect everyone to follow the same set of rules. So why can’t the same be true for same-sex marriage? Christian freedom should also acknowledge that although homosexuality may be debatable to be a sin, the same God decreed that mankind is free to love one another and this should be recognized as well. In actuality, religion is not against the relationship of gay couples but lust. Since same-sex couples cannot procreate, then their union is purely for lustful purposes. In logic, there is a point made here but it is unfair to say that homosexuals are incapable of love, in the same way that it is impartial to say that heterosexuals are impaired of lust as well. So if heterosexual relationships that are grounded on lust are being tolerated every now and then, would it make a difference if homosexuals were afforded the same opportunity as well?
No one is at liberty to question a religion or its beliefs, it is a sensitive and complex issue. Religion is a way of life and a deep tradition for a great number of people all over the world. As much as it is a hate crime to deprive homosexuals of equal rights, we are inflicting the same injustice if we accuse religious people of having false beliefs. There are actually a number of religious people who are homosexuals, there are also a handful of religious groups who are firmly rooted into their beliefs but can tolerate or even support same-sex marriages. The enemy of the LGBT community is not so much religion, but bigotry and ignorance. People who view themselves impossible to be wrong and everyone else incapable of being right. People who are clueless of facts and deeply rooted in their prejudice. They were the same enemies of the blacks, of the colored people of South Africa and of women in the early modern era and now of gays and lesbians; it is not religion and certainly not someone divine.
In the American declaration of Independence, their future third President Thomas Jefferson included a phrase which would thereafter be known in history as the immortal declaration which goes:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”
The most striking line of this phrase would be: “all men are created equal”. Not referring to solely the masculine gender, Thomas Jefferson states that in the eyes of God, all of mankind are equal and were made the same by the Creator and was given the same rights and freedom. The reason why this is called the immortal declaration is because it is a summary of almost every Constitution of the world. Everyone would agree the principles of this provision that indeed, everyone is equal and is blessed with the same rights as everyone else. The world realized this in dealing with the suffrage of women, the equal rights of all colored people in South Africa and of African-American blacks in the United States. I pray that someday too, the same concept of equality of inalienable human rights would be afforded to our brothers and sisters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual communities as well.
In reality, these homosexuals are not asking to be accepted or to be embraced, but merely tolerated. They want to co-exist in our society where they are treated like the human beings they are, the same way the blacks, the women and colored people of the past fought to be treated and now are. The way the marginalized religions, ethnic groups and stereotypes of the world are still hoping to be treated. They merely want to feel like they are normal.
Their struggle is slowly gaining ground and people are starting to understand that there is injustice in discriminating homosexuals the same way it is wrong to discriminate against a race, culture, religion or stereotype. The help of mainstream media personalities are vital artillery in their fights, notable examples include rapper Macklemore and lesbian talk-show host Ellen Degeneres.
On April 18th 2013, New Zealand successfully amended their Marriage law which recognized the marriage of same-sex couples. The third reading proceedings were heavily scrutinized by the New Zealand population. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night was Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson’s speech on the defense of gay couples. His speech is now viral on Youtube but one line which made the most sense and is very true is when he said that even if the bill passes, “the sun will still rise tomorrow”. The world will not come crumbling down nor will mankind come to an end, it will merely affect the people who the legislation concerns while everyone else’s lives will be back to normal. Maurice couldn’t have had said it any better. Although he belonged to the Conservatives, Maurice became an unlikely icon for equal rights in New Zealand and his efforts are being paid off with a guesting in the Ellen Degeneres show.
I hope that someday, the fourteen states that currently support gay marriage today will be joined by more countries who would be providing equal rights to all human beings someday. I hope that, just like in the song from the Wizard of Oz, somewhere over the big, gay rainbow there will be a place where all bluebirds may be able to spread their wings and fly freely someday.
And to look at another verse of the song:
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
I long to see that place where the skies are blue and hope that someday, same-sex couples may get the dreams that they dream to come true.