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by Eric Rader
With the midterm elections behind us, it’s time to look ahead. The recent Republican victories would seem to be a major setback for the LGBT community. Since the early 1980s, the Republican Party has cozied up to the “religious right” in its efforts to win federal and state offices around the country and here in Michigan. Most prominent Republican officials have publicly stated their opposition to any measures that would guarantee equality based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The current debate over repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy is an example of this, with Senate Republicans standing in the way of even debating this issue, despite overwhelming public support for getting rid of this discriminatory policy. During the 2004 presidential election, President George W. Bush’s campaign operation spearheaded anti-gay marriage amendments in several swing states, including Michigan, as a political wedge to help drive up Republican turnout in his reelection effort. Two years after his reelection, Bush endorsed an anti-gay marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Republicans have been at the forefront of the battle to deny even small measures of equality to our community.
Of course, not all Republicans have opposed LGBT equality and not every Democrat has supported us. At the midpoint of President Obama’s first term, many in our community are concerned about his slow movement in ending DADT and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It is important to recognize, though, that the few legal protections gays and lesbians enjoy at the federal level in this country have been extended by Democrats, including a ban on discrimination in federal employment and the provision of limited benefits to the same-sex partners of foreign service officers.
We should not despair over the political setbacks faced by the LGBT community in the recent election. Equality always comes slowly, no matter how just it is. We need only look at the African American and women’s rights movements of the 20th Century to see how long it can take to achieve equality in the United States. The leaders of both movements faced overwhelming political odds in the 1950s and 1960s as they fought the battle to gain equality. Many of the political leaders of Congress at that time were conservative Southern white males who were determined to protect the status quo of that time. The people who fought bravely for equality at that time were never assured of success, and indeed, it often seemed that they would not succeed. Yet they persevered through demonstrations, boycotts, rallies, and court cases, putting their great moral weight behind the cause of justice and equality.
Since the Republicans have far more power at the national and state levels, we must follow the examples set by the other movements for equality in the United States. It is important to continue the legal fight for equality. Already, federal courts have ruled against the DADT policy and in favor of marriage equality in California. Eventually, these cases will go before the U.S. Supreme Court. While the conservative makeup of the high court might give supporters of equality pause, it’s still important to pursue the cases. The Supreme Court was considered to be conservative in the mid-1950s before it issued unanimous rulings against legal segregation in the United States.
The LGBT community should also continue to lobby our legislators, even those who seem most opposed to our cause. Though most Republicans stand against LGBT equality, there are a few who are supportive, though they face strong pressures from others in their ranks to back away from change. We should make ourselves visible and show our communities that we are like everyone else, yet we face persistent legal discrimination. It is also important to make socially conscious decisions about where we shop, eat, lodge, and invest. Don’t give hard-earned money to entities that would deny LGBTs basic equality.
Most importantly, now is not the time to shrink from the fight for equality. As other social movements have shown in their fight for equal rights, it is possible to be successful even when the odds seem to be against you. The important thing is to fight the good fight. Throughout this country’s history, marginalized groups have moved forward regardless of the challenges. We must do the same today.
Continue to contact Michigan’s two senators and urge them to pass DADT during the lame duck session. Note–Sen. Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is handling this issue:
Senator Carl Levin: http://levin.senate.gov/contact/
Senator Debbie Stabenow: http://stabenow.senate.gov/email.cfm
HRC’s 2011 Corporate Equality Index: