Saturday, June 27, 2015

On the Supreme Court decision recognizing the right of same-sex marriage

by David Balashinsky

I am happy about the June 26th, 2015 Supreme Court decision recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry not only because I believe in marriage equality and equal rights for all human beings but also because, as an advocate for the right of infants not to have their genitals irreparably altered without their consent, I find this turn of events hugely inspiring.

The gay rights movement really is a paradigm of how to wage a struggle for both legal, medical, and social change.  It was not too long ago that not only gay rights but homosexuality itself were widely and routinely suppressed.  Homosexuality was considered - at best - an illness, and was only removed from the category of "mental disorders" in the DSM II (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1973 (but reclassified as a "sexual orientation disturbance") and was only removed altogether from the DSM in 1987.  At worst, homosexuality was considered deviant or evil. More recently, as the bigots have been deprived of their traditional justifications for discriminating against LGBTQ persons, they have devised the ostensibly neutral but no-less delegitimizing phrase, "lifestyle choice."  But the essence of the gay rights movement has always been a simple demand for recognition of the legitimacy of lesbians and gays as fully-defined and fully normal people, and that demand for medical, legal, and social acceptance has now culminated in the recognition of a constitutional right to marry. Thus, from Stonewall, just a few decades ago, to this: it reminds me that success in the great cause so dear to my heart - ending routine infant circumcision - is not only possible but inevitable. 

There are many parallels between the gay rights movement and the cause of ending genital cutting, which includes female genital mutilation (FGM), male genital mutilation (MGM), and the sexual reassignment and assortment into a rigidly dimorphic sexual classification as occurs in genital surgery that is imposed on intersex infants.  Both movements have been, and in the case of genital cutting, continue to be, waged on three fronts, including the law, medical practice, and socially.  Legally, headway has been made in ending FGM in the United States, since it has been banned here since 1996.  Within the domain of medical practice, MGM is increasingly being questioned and falling out of favor.  Socially, too, MGM is losing its once hallowed and popular acceptance.  But it is particularly in this regard - MGM's social acceptance - that the language of the current Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage makes me so optimistic about ending routine infant circumcision for, as Justice Kennedy wrote, "The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. . . ." That is exactly the case with male genital mutilation.  It is precisely because it is a cultural norm - as discrimination against gays has been - that those (both without and within the medical profession) who actively support MGM (because of its "benefits") or merely take it for granted (because it is "normal") fail to recognize it as the monstrous injustice that it is.  Yet, at the same time, it is precisely because cultures can change - as this momentous and righteous decision by the Supreme court demonstrates - that I take renewed hope for the cause of genital autonomy from this decision.  Just as the manifold rights of gays to live openly, freely, with dignity, and to marry were once a distant vision of a better future, so a world into which every infant may be born without violence being done to its genitals remains the beacon that inspires and guides us in these dark times for the cause of genital rights.  This decision renews my faith that change is possible and justice achievable.

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