Thursday, November 6, 2008

Saying No to Equality

Of course I am disappointed that the voters in three states, including Florida, decided to adopt laws that ban equal rights for the gay and lesbian community. I am not, however, surprised. Ironically, the amendments passed in large part because of the turnout in the African-American and Hispanic communities to vote for Barack Obama. While they may be supportive of Democrats in terms of voting for president, by and large these groups are socially conservative. Another irony is that while they may not return the favor, the gay community takes a great deal of their inspiration for achieving equal rights from the example of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

There are several gay-rights groups in California that plan to challenge the adoption of Prop 8 in the courts. I wish them luck, but I’m not hopeful, and I also think that it will be seen as a backdoor way into winning. Certainly the opponents will claim that “activist judges” shouldn’t be determining the outcome (while completely ignoring the likelihood that they would pursue the same solution if they had lost). I also think that going for a technicality doesn’t win the argument. Acceptance of minority rights is not something that comes with the bang of a gavel but with the education and informing of those who are ignorant or unaware of the meaning of the injustice being done to the minority. It’s a far effective method when you can show someone how the simple act of granting equal rights touches someone you know: your son, your daughter, your brother, your sister, your co-worker, your best friend, or even a parent or grandparent. It means a great deal more when you tell someone to vote for equality when you take it out of the abstract of “special rights for homosexuals” (an execrable and fatuous statement on its face) and turn it to the question of “what have I, as a gay man, ever done to you that would make you hate or fear me so much that you would deny me one of the basic rights of civilized society: to have my partnership and all the rights and responsibilities recognized by the state?” Or, to put it simply, look me in the face and tell me why I should accept second-class citizenship.

I think when the supporters of gay rights reach out to the communities, be they black, Hispanic, or any other group — including the evangelicals — and ask that simple question, we will begin to turn the tide. We can win our rights by legislation and the ballot box, but what matters also is winning the hearts as well, and when that happens, the vote will be overwhelming in our favor.