03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Now What? The Long and Winding Road towards LGBT Equality

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.

We must make it clear that there
is nothing wrong with children learning that there are LGBT people.
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.

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
, 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.