Obama publicly declared his personal belief that gay marriage should be legal. It was truly refreshing to hear the president speak out for gay rights on an issue where he is potentially far enough ahead of public opinion to lose votes over it.
There are a lot of opinions about the political impact of this. While I will engage in such discussion given a few beers, I certainly don’t see value or validity in any opinion on the matter. I have only one general sense, and that is: when people will look back 50 years from now at the fact that gay people could not marry, they will see it the same way as we now see the fact that women could not vote in the United States in a relatively recent past.
In other words, we are making some kind of progress. None of it is trivial (though it might appear to be in retrospect) but it’s comforting to know that I live in a time when we as a society are actively struggling with big moral questions. And all of it adds up to real implications for ourselves and our neighbors.
Of course, I’m confident that in 50 years, there will be newly “identified” groups of people whom the majority will discriminate against, either through the law or just through the way we talk, think, and live. I believe that one such group is robots. It may seem like a joke now, but I do believe that the growth of the personal robotics industry (or perhaps cloning) will bring some damn tough moral questions to the forefront.
The mathematician I admire more than any other in the 20th century is Alan Turing. He is widely considered to be the father of computer science. I’ve studied his work and the consequences of his work for the last 10 years, but not until recently did I learn about the man himself.
I won’t get into a long Wikipedia-style retelling of his life, but focus on its tragic end. He was arrested in 1952 for “homosexual acts” which at the time were illegal in England (and remained so until 1967). Two years after that, Turing committed suicide.
Gay rights have been in the courts and in public discourse recently. The point of contention is whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry. I believe that of course they should (though I do believe marriage is a religious practice, and government should only just grant civil unions to everyone). Many people disagree. However, what bothers me is the amount of value the opponents of gay marriage assign to this issue. It seems the Christian community is making this its primary battle cry under the umbrella of “values”.
So whenever someone brings up the issue of gay marriage to me, I think of Alan Turing, and the suffering he endured at the hands of a society that couldn’t accept who the man wanted to love, but sure as hell could accept the brilliant contributions to technology and science that he provided.
To this day, the British government has not pardoned Alan Turing for having sex with another man.