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A Declaration of Gay Independence

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We know that the original signers of the Declaration of Independence didn't really live by their own words. Very few people in this country's early years actually had the full rights of citizenship. But those forefathers had a dream, and that dream has been slowly fulfilled in the more than 200 years since it was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776.

As the country celebrates Independence Day this year, I would like to declare a Declaration of Gay Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people, regardless of race, gender, religion, immigration or economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity, are created equal, that they are endowed by their government with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. This liberty and happiness shall extend to all laws that give rights and responsibilities to adult people in a committed relationship."

The conservative movement that pushed for an "original intent" application to the U.S. Constitution and other documents knows that few people had rights "in the beginning." Congress and the courts have had to intervene to make it clear that African Americans, women and others were covered. Now, it is the same for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The courts and elected officials are simply following in the great tradition of expanding who the "men" are that (slaveholder) Thomas Jefferson and others referred to in our country's founding paperwork.

The Declaration, which was a response to the revolution against Great Britain, also states:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

But we don't even need a new revolution to change the status quo on LGBT rights. In fact, polls show that the country is progressing despite the slow pace of change from some governmental bodies and politicians. Rather, what we need is a Declaration of Gay Independence to continue to push for equality and the will of most people to create a more fair and just society.

What shape should this independence take? We should not be beholden to any one organization, leader or political party. We should vote for people based on their actions and not their words. We should never expect to all agree on one course of action for our diverse movements. And we should respectfully allow for different paths to justice (in the streets, in Congress and in the board rooms).

The movement for LGBT equality has progressed at relative lightning speed to this moment in history. It has benefited from the laws and social change forced by justice fighters from myriad movements. And this movement's success and ultimate victory will not come at the hands of any elected officials, judges or even the president. After all, the fight for equality for African Americans and women is far from over, and no politician alone can solve these systemic problems.

Rather, our success will also be measured in how the next generations live and thrive, how they are accepted for who they are, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. People who worked to rid this country of previous discrimination, and slavery, took a long view, way beyond who occupied the White House.

In an Oct. 16, 1854 speech in Peoria, Ill., Abraham Lincoln, seven years before starting his first term as president, said:

"Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a 'sacred right of self-government.' ... Let us readopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. ... If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving."

Lincoln later said, in a debate about slavery with Stephen Douglas in 1858, that he thought "the Declaration contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere." Lincoln believed the Declaration informed the Constitution that came later. This was an important interpretation and, in retrospect, Lincoln's view did prove the dominant one.

Like Lincoln, let us readopt the Declaration of Independence and recommit to the movement for full equality. Through our actions, and not just words.

Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor of Windy City Times. She is the author of Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage and Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow.

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