I know we have pressing matters to tend to. Our homeless need shelter, our sick need care, our schools need resources, and our children need to be left a world they can thrive in; a world with clean water and air, with art and innovation, with religious freedom and equality. In fact, these are the very objects of my affection and what I've dedicated my life's work to insuring.
So, I understand busy. Each one of us is occupied in various and numerous ways. We have our "urgents" and our "importants" battling for every minute of our days. There is only so much we can get involved in. Perhaps, you think, our gay friends and their fight for marriage equality will have to wait a bit longer for our attention.
I can only imagine where this issue ranks in your to-do list. But the truth is, marriage equality is no more a "gay" issue than slavery was a black issue. In 2010, hundreds of thousands of Americans are being treated as partial citizens. The very men and women we trust to fight our wars, protect our streets, teach our children and heal our sick can't get married.
I can't get married. And, I'm gay.
I am an American citizen, living under the same constitution as you, abiding by the same tax laws as you, yet without the same rights as you. Doesn't that matter?
Marriage matters. It matters in our society. It matters in our laws. It matters in our hearts. Equal rights and equality protection under the law matters. For as long as we allow discrimination in our laws it will remain in our hearts.
I recently heard the story of a Missouri state trooper, Dennis Engelhard, who was killed on Christmas Day. He was helping a motorist when a car driving past lost control, hitting and killing the 49-year old trooper.
Dennis was gay. He had committed his life to his partner of 15 years. After his tragic death, the state denied the normal pension benefits that would have been given to any other spouse. In Missouri, there is no legal way for same-sex couples to marry. They are not protected under the very laws that Dennis fought to defend day in and day out. Marriage matters.
There were countless stories like that of Dennis Engelhard being told in a small courtroom in San Francisco during the Proposition 8 trial. If you haven't read the arguments for both sides of this issue yet, please spend a few minutes at www.prop8trialtracker.com.
Within the testimonies of each witness and expert, one fact prevailed. There are societal, psychological, emotional and economic ramifications linked to marriage. Denying marriage to an entire class of people has negative consequences that extend beyond those individuals, and impact their families, their friends and their communities. Moreover, denying same-sex couples the right to marry has a negative impact on our economy as a whole. Oppression is oppression no matter what way you look at it and is harmful to society.
I'm writing this editorial as a friend of this community and a firm believer in the values we built our nation's democracy on. I also believe there is no greater foundation than that of our family, friends and faith. It is that foundation that led me to public service, and has provided the compass needed to negotiate the difficult waters I've faced. It is not easy to be gay in America.
But I am not writing this as a victim. I'm not writing this to stand on a soapbox or run for office. It simply occurred to me that maybe no one has asked you, yet — asked you to get involved. If that's the case, I want to be the first.
It will take all of us to abolish institutionalized discrimination from our state and federal laws. Only then will we have a nation worthy of our children.
Alexa Valavanis is CEO of North Valley Community Foundation and is working on her first non-fiction book about her work and travels in Asia.