by John Corvino
I’ve spent the last week traveling through rural Wisconsin for a series of diversity lectures at small technical colleges. Lecturing on gay issues at such venues can be eye-opening. It’s a big country out there, and while students today may be a good deal more gay-friendly than they once were, not everyone shares the views of a typical liberal arts major at NYU or UC-Berkeley.
Of course, there are pleasant surprises along the way, like the scraggly welding major who came up after one talk and said, “I’m a former homophobe. Thanks for being here.” On the other hand, it’s hard not to react visibly when an audience member tries to establish his scholarly bona fides by announcing,
“My views on this are very well thought out. I studied the Bible carefully when I was in prison.”
My travels through the Midwest got me thinking about the national LGBT movement’s tendency to focus on California and the Northeast. There are good reasons for this bias, insofar as these are populous and influential regions. But I decided to spend this week discussing the two gay-related ballot initiatives currently going on – in Kalamazoo, Michigan and in Washington State. They both deserve more attention than they’re getting.
The Kalamazoo initiative is close to home for me – I live in Detroit, about two-and-a-half hours away. Kalamazoo is a small city in a conservative part of the state. Nevertheless, as the home of Kalamazoo College, Western Michigan University and the Arcus Foundation, it has a vibrant progressive streak.
About three years ago, citizens began discussions with city representatives about expanding Kalamazoo’s non-discrimination ordinance (which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations) to include protections for sexual orientation and gender expression. In December of 2008, the Kalamazoo city commission unanimously approved the expanded ordinance, but opposition forced the city to subject it to public review.
As a result, in June of this year, a new ordinance was introduced with stronger exemptions for churches and other religious organizations. Once again, the ordinance passed unanimously, and once again, opposition groups derailed it, this time by collecting enough signatures to suspend the ordinance until it can be put to a public vote in November. A ‘yes’ vote would preserve the ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression; a ‘no’ vote would strike it down.
Opposition has largely been organized by the Michigan American Family Association – a small-minded, sex-obsessed group that even some right wingers I know prefer to steer clear of see http. They’ve been trying to instill fear in voters by raising the specter of men with “psycho-emotional delusions” preying on women and children in restrooms.
Reasonable minds can differ about whether, and to what extent, legal action is the right response to discrimination by private employers, landlords, and so on. But if we’re going to have non-discrimination laws at all, they should surely include sexual orientation and gender expression. I therefore urge readers to visit the One Kalamazoo site http://www.onekalamazoo.com/ and support their efforts.
For some years, Washington State has had limited domestic partnership rights which include hospital visitation, inheritance rights, the ability to authorize autopsies and organ donations and legal standing under probate and trust law. This year, legislators expanded the law so that domestic partners would be granted the remaining statewide legal incidents of marriage (though not under the name “marriage”) – including access to unpaid sick leave to care for an ailing partner, various legal process rights, pension benefits, insurance benefits and adoption and child support rights and responsibilities, among others.
Opponents then collected signatures to force the new law on the ballot. As in Kalamazoo, a ‘yes’ vote here is the pro-gay vote: it would support the expanded domestic partnership law. A ‘no’ vote would kill the expanded domestic partnership law, leaving Washington staters with the far more limited domestic partnership rights they previously had.
The opposition’s campaign is ugly. Take a moment to visit
http://protectmarriagewa.com and click on the video on the right with the smiling white couple in wedding attire. There you will learn that “God established, and defined marriage, between a man and a woman. … Senate Bill 5688 violates God’s mandate.”
Incidentally, you will also learn that Adam and Eve look like they should be doing Breck commercials – at least as depicted in a certain Lowell Bruce Bennett painting owned by the Mormon Church.
The visuals may be funny, but ignorance and discrimination are not. Visit http://approvereferendum71.org and support efforts to preserve robust domestic-partnership legislation in Washington State.
Polls for both of these initiatives show us close enough to win – but if, and only if, we support them.