The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made history on Friday, June 26th by ruling that same-sex marriage be legal nation-wide. Countless Americans took to the streets while others proudly displayed profile pictures in rainbow hues, celebrating this moment in jubilation. As the story hit international news streams, perhaps billions of people received the news to mixed reactions. It is interesting that 21 other countries – even developing nations like Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, as well as South Africa – legalized same-sex marriage before the United States, and yet none of them caused the international uproar that the SCOTUS ruling achieved. This is yet another testament to the kind of global influence America wields.
As the SCOTUS ruling made its way around the world, gathering statuses, comments, likes, hashtags, and more rainbow-filtered profile pictures, something more sinister was brewing beneath the surface. In Russia, conservative politicians and Orthodox Church leaders were quick to denounce the development as America’s attempt to “impose its anti-natural and post-human view of marriage on other countries.” In China, Prof. Zeng Yi of Tongji University, who described the U.S. decision to approve same-sex marriage as a “crime against humanity,” stressed that the purpose of marriage was to have children. Most chillingly, ISIS decided to commemorate this historic event by posting footage of an execution of four gay men in a barbaric fashion – throwing them off a roof of a five-story building and sending them plunging to their deaths. This video was accompanied by ISIS’ ironic use of the hashtag #LoveWins.
I myself was eager to see the reactions of other Sri Lankans to the news, and was horrified to see the outpouring of hatred and bigotry on Facebook. Many commented on same-sex unions being unnatural, akin to pedophilia, was immoral, was upsetting the balance of nature etc. It was clear that homophobia, which had long existed in the form of micro-aggressions and less overt forms, was being pushed to the surface by this landmark ruling in America. I shudder to think of the backlash that the members of the LGBTQ+ community must be experiencing in their home countries, from being denied their identity to being denied their life, much like the four innocents who lost their live to ISIS.
Many wonder as to what the cause of this surge of resentment and bigotry could be. One answer is that the topic of LGBTQ+ rights was never a mainstream issue in these countries, until society perceived the institution of marriage to be threatened by the U.S. ruling. Others claim that such a bold and sweeping move was not expected from a nation as staunchly religious and conservative as the U.S., thus shaking the confidence of the religious right and traditionalists globally. Whatever the cause may be, the U.S. cannot be held to blame. It is not the fault of Americans that bigotry exists in other parts of the world. Each of us must shoulder the weight of what flaws exist in our own countries.
On a more positive note, not all of this is gloomy and dark. In Australia, legislators are confident that the U.S. policy isolates Australia as the only developed, English-speaking nation to refuse to legalize marriages between same-sex couples. Legislator Janet Rice, Greens Party leader, called the U.S. ruling “the loudest call yet for marriage equality in Australia.” Meanwhile, in India, activists believe that this recent development would force legislators to reconsider the 2013 Indian Supreme Court decision to reinstate a colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime. As Chinese LGBTQ+ activist Ah Qiang, director of Guangzhou-based Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said, “I’ve never seen so much debate in both the traditional media and social media – so many people, and in so much depth. People who opposed homosexuality rarely felt a need to speak out — but they’ve taken this chance to express their feelings.”
This was definitely the case for the many vociferous opponents of marriage equality in Sri Lanka, who flooded my newsfeed with their posts, comments, and homophobic memes. I doubt that many of these people had ever had a full-fledged conversation about LGBTQ+ rights. And yet, the news of the SCOTUS ruling had forced these opinions out on to the surface. No longer were they festering deep in the hearts and minds of people, but being aired out in public and debated by others. This gave me the opportunity to write a blog post that addressed some of the basic arguments against queer identity that I encountered, which got over 1,400 views and was shared by many. I do not say this to brag about myself, but to point out that every word and gesture helps. I know that my voice may have helped someone out there question their prejudice or rekindle hope in the heart of those who are driven deep into the closet. This is the first step to more and more people realizing the justness of the LGBTQ+ cause.
Let me end by saying that for those who believe that the struggle for queer liberation and justice is over, think again. Queer identity is continually besieged both in America and abroad, and no one can rest until all people celebrate the same rights under the same rainbow flag. Yet today, we are closer to achieving that dream. It is the duty of each and every one of us to engage our family, friends, and social media acquaintances in these conversations, and to spread the message of equality that the Supreme Court stood for.