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By Eric W. Rader
As we move into the month of June, our community once again prepares to celebrate LGBT Pride. While much of the focus during Pride celebrations is on letting ourselves enjoy each other’s company, it’s also good for us to take stock of how far we’ve come and what the road ahead looks like. The struggle for LGBT equality has certainly moved very quickly in a short amount of time. In 2009, President Obama signed an LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes law and directed the State Department to remove the ban on immigration into the United States by HIV-positive foreigners. At the end of 2010, Congress and the president repealed the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy on military service by gays and lesbians. Last year, mainstream public opinion surveys showed for the first time that slight majorities of Americans supported equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, and New York became the largest state to allow same-sex marriage. Just this past month, President Obama announced that he supports the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry. Last week, a federal judge in California issued a ruling striking down the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA).
Despite all the recent progress for the LGBT community in America, there remain significant public policy challenges. The same week President Obama came out in favor of equal marriage rights, voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly approved an anti-gay marriage amendment to their state constitution. Congress has shown no willingness to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. Here in Michigan, Governor Snyder signed legislation late last year that denies any domestic partner benefits to state and educational employees.
It’s clear that a majority of Americans support legal equality for gays and lesbians. However, there is a divide between younger and older adults in this country, with the youngest Americans being the ones most likely to support marriage equality and other rights for LGBTs. This is a hopeful sign for the future of gay rights in the United States. In the meantime, what can we do to advance equality in our own time? The most obvious answer is to elect more people to public office who believe in equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The two major political parties have very different views when it comes to LGBT rights. On the same day President Obama announced his support for equal marriage rights, his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, reiterated his opposition to any legal recognition of gay relationships, even domestic partnerships. Indeed, all of the Republican candidates for president this year were openly hostile to gay rights and most wore their homophobia as a badge of honor. We should remember that whoever is elected president in November will quite possibly appoint several justices to the Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court will likely decide the constitutionality of DOMA and other anti-gay legislation in the next few years. Almost every Republican serving in Congress is hostile to LGBT equality, something we should remember as we vote in House and Senate elections this fall.
The only way equal rights progress will happen in this country is if LGBT Americans get involved in the political process. A person doesn’t have to march in a rally or donate money to an equality organization in order to have a political impact. People who care about LGBT equality should come out to their friends and families–a person is less likely to be prejudiced against us if they know who we are. It’s important to stay informed about what’s going on in the world, too. The single most critical action we can take for equality, though, is to cast a ballot on Election Day. One of the reasons anti-gay forces in North Carolina put the marriage amendment on the ballot for the May Primary was because they knew that voter turnout would be extremely low for the election. If younger people had voted at the same rate as older voters, the results would likely have been much different. Please don’t let others decide our rights. Every one of us has a responsibility to participate in some way in the political process. If we get involved in this year’s elections, then we can really have something to celebrate next year.
Information on Obama Pride:
Victory Fund to elect LGBT candidates: