HIV Criminalization And Marriage Equality
3/5/2012 12:30:00 PM
By Alex Garner
It would appear that marriage equality and HIV criminalization have very little in common. In most cases they do, but not anymore thanks to the great state of Maryland. The Maryland governor just signed marriage equality into law and the same legislature that produced the marriage equality bill, may now be considering legislation that would change HIV non-disclosure from a misdemeanor to a 25-year felony. Could this state champion marriage equality while simultaneously criminalizing and stigmatizing HIV positive people?
It seems unlikely that this piece of legislation will make it to the governor’s desk but its proposal demonstrates the fear and ignorance that still exist today. These sorts of laws will not prevent HIV infections and would only deter people from getting tested or seeking treatment. It’s bad for public health and it’s bad for social justice.
So why isn’t a similar amount of energy and money going into defeating laws against HIV positive people as is going into laws for marriage equality? Surely it can’t be a question of urgency. I am not aware of people currently serving long prison sentences for requesting a marriage license. Gays who try to marry are not labeled as sex offenders for such an act.
So what’s the catch? Is it simply a matter of optics? A picture of two lesbians tying the knot evokes much more sympathy then that of a gay man arrested for not disclosing his HIV status. But that’s not good enough. It simply means we may have to work harder to demonstrate that injustice is occurring.
Our community has a rich history of success with fights that are unattractive or uncomfortable so why is it largely absent now? Do the rights of HIV positive people rank that low on the list? Could I be wrong and could marriage equality and HIV criminalization be more connected than I thought? If we are fighting for the right to be married and have legally recognized loving and committed relationships, the specter of the disease-spreading homosexual could be a threat to those political endeavors.
Civil rights are not a scarce resource. Our LGBT community should be just as concerned for equal protection under the law when it comes to a marriage contract as it does when one is HIV positive. It’s time for our national and local organizations to step up and join the fight. We’ve seen how successful we can be when we work together, let’s put an equal amount of effort into social justice for those with HIV.
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