Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Privilege can be Straight and Narrow
Consider this scenario:
My girlfriend of three years is Canadian. We both live in Oklahoma and are going to OU and have plans to get married some day. In the next few years we plan on moving to Illinois. She is here on a green card with her family, which will expire in about seven years. By marrying her in the next seven years, getting full or even dual citizenship can be expedited and her naturalization won't really be an issue.
Everything in that paragraph seems normal and wouldn't be cause for discussion when talking about privilege. Nothing based on race, creed, color, or nation of origin causes any red flags to go up in that situation. Everything seems normal and is what we have come to expect from immigration laws in the U.S.
Now let's look at the actual situation:
My boyfriend of three years is Canadian. We both live in Oklahoma and are going to OU and have plans to get married some day. In the next few years we plan on moving to Illinois. He is here on a green card with his family, which will expire in about seven years. Even if we get married in one of the six states now allowing equal marriage rights, the federal government does not recognize these marriages and they are not eligible for expedited naturalization. Within the next seven years he will either need to start a longer immigration program on his own, find an employer who provides sponsorship for immigration, or we move to Canada. O Canada!
This is one of many legalized privileges afforded to heterosexual couples through civil marriage.* Other legal issues arise even outside of civil marriage rights. Sexual orientation is not covered under the Fair Housing Act, any related acts, or any housing related executive orders.
Coming off of the legal privileges and focusing back on a social and cultural privilege, we can look at the knapsack McIntosh discusses(pdf) and make similar comparisons to the privileges straight men and women have in our society.
For example: "I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my sexual orientation widely represented."
In the 2008-2009 television season, 2.6% of all regular scripted characters on network television are identified as LGBT, an increase over previous years. Of those, lead characters on network television who are gay or lesbian consist of Kevin Walker on Brothers and Sisters and Callie Torres and Erica Hahn on Grey's Anatomy, both found on ABC. This is twelve years after Ellen first came out as a lesbian on her television show (her sitcom, not her talk show) becoming the first lead character to be out on television. This is the generation that grew up watching Will & Grace, gay characters on television is not supposed to be an issue anymore, yet only three lead characters can be found on network television.
Is privilege only in being seen on television? What about in the way gays and lesbians are viewed. If only three lead characters are gay or lesbian, that still leaves supporting characters. It seems that being the leading man or leading lady is left more to the straight characters.
(I differentiate civil marriage here for a reason. All legal marriages conducted in the United States must have a civic element, usually a marriage license provided by the government. Not all marriages in the United States, however, have a religious component to them. Therefore we can use the term civil marriage to define the act and rights afforded by government recognition of a union of two people).