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Geoff Kors

Geoff Kors

Posted: November 11, 2009 10:54 AM

Now What? The Long and Winding Road towards LGBT Equality

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It has been a tumultuous week since last Tuesday’s elections. Maine voters stripped their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends and neighbors of the right to marry. Meanwhile, Kalamazoo residents voted to preserve anti-discrimination protections, and Washingtonians said “yes” to domestic partnerships. Now that the votes are in, it’s time to reflect on what is next in the push for full equality.

It’s the responsibility of legislatures to pass laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public services and facilities based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other protected classes like race and religion. It’s the responsibility of the courts to intervene and interpret those laws when needed. It is the courts that ensure the government does not discriminate against individuals in these protected groups. They ensure that individuals in these groups cannot be denied marriage licenses, access to government programs or government jobs when the legislature doesn’t do so.

For instance, the courts stepped in when California voters tried to repeal protections against housing discrimination based on race and tried to strip the children of undocumented workers of health care and education. The courts stepped in when Colorado voters tried to repeal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and prevent the legislature from enacting laws in the future to protect gay people.

Why?  Because the majority does not have the right under the United States Constitution to overturn laws providing equality to a protected minority group and deny the legislative and judicial branches their right -- and obligation -- to enact such laws. Period. End of story.

Well, it should be the end of the story. But over the past year, voters have stripped away marriage rights in California and Maine. And the California Supreme Court failed in its obligation to protect our fundamental freedom to marry.

So now what? What does the path forward look like?

1.  Federal courts are considering a challenge to Prop 8 on the grounds that it violates the United States Constitution. This case argues that Prop 8 denies same-sex couples the same right as opposite-sex couples to obtain a government-issued marriage license for no reason other than the majority’s animus towards us. Equality California strongly supports this case. We have filed a powerful brief asking the Court to overturn Prop 8 and restore the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. The Obama Administration needs to join the fight and stop the abhorrent abuse of the initiative process to eliminate the rights of any targeted minority. The Administration can do this without taking a position on marriage, even though Obama’s continued opposition to equality for same-sex couples remains extremely troubling to us. I strongly encourage you to sign our petition asking the Administration to file a brief in support of this case, and ask your friends and family to sign it, too.

2.  We must stop endorsing and giving money to candidates for office who do not support full and complete equality for every person regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity -- and let them know why. EQCA’s Political Action Committee does not support candidates who do not believe in our equality 100 percent, including marriage equality and insurance coverage for transition-related care for transgender people. And that has been our policy for many years. Until the politicians who take our community for granted realize that they no longer count on our vote unless we can count on theirs, they will not change their ways. We must make it clear that there is no middle ground. Either you support equality or you don’t.

3.  We must make it clear that there is nothing wrong with children learning that there are LGBT people. Our children should understand why every child should grow up in a world where they know they are safe and will be able to fall in love and get married regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That is why we worked so hard to pass a bill in California establishing Harvey Milk Day, and we will continue to work for an inclusive curriculum. Those who oppose marriage equality are using fear and children to scare people. By working to ensure an inclusive curriculum we can take this argument away from them. And in the meantime, we need to test different messages and messengers in response to their attacks so we can learn how to best respond now, rather than in the middle of an election.

4.  Most importantly, we must continue to come out and tell our stories. This is critical no matter what the court decides or if another initiative moves forward. The Let California Ring coalition, which includes allies such as the American Civil Liberties Union, California NOW and the NAACP, has the goal to achieve not just equality but understanding and acceptance. And every time we share our lives and every day we live authentically as LGBT people or as out and vocal allies, we create the change we are seeking. 

While I remain sad and angry about what happened in Maine, the results in Washington and Kalamazoo and the election of LGBT candidates in places throughout our nation demonstrate the progress we have made. Add these victories to the passage of federal hate crimes legislation, the signing of the Harvey Milk Day bill, marriage victories in Vermont and Iowa and the many other gains our community has made this year alone, and there is much reason for hope. We are making tremendous progress and, while there will continue to be setbacks along the way, we will prevail. 


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