Viewpoint: There’s no time like the present

By |2009-06-18T09:00:00-04:00June 18th, 2009|Opinions|

by Jeff A. Ward

Contrary to what we were taught to believe, patience isn’t always a virtue – especially when it comes to our right as LGBT Americans to marry one another. Patience may seem pragmatic, maybe even in our best interest. At least that’s what some of our LGBT leaders would have us think.
Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, contends that LGBT folks will win marriage rights more easily by building public support over time and doing the kind of grassroots work necessary to achieve the freedom to marry – eventually – at ballot boxes one state at a time. I suppose that kind of protracted strategy is a good one to take if your job depends on it. But with all due respect, I believe it is a flawed strategy.
Haven’t we seen this before? If the civil rights movement taught us anything, it’s that the majority doesn’t bestow justice, equality, freedom and fairness to a minority just because they actually have a right to equal protection under the law. No, the majority usually has to be dragged along kicking and screaming. Sometimes it’s the U.S. Supreme Court that has to step in as it did in Brown v. Board of Education where “separate but equal” facilities for black and white Americans were deemed “inherently unequal.” Other times, it takes courageous political leadership to do the right thing as Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson did with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Mr. Wolfson’s strategy is tantamount to tacit acceptance of the states’ rights argument that was at the heart of the Civil War and the south’s claim on slavery. Admittedly, we have come a long way since then. But when it comes to matters of civil rights, we cannot afford the time, money or energy required to ensure the desired outcome one state at a time. California – a place where I lived for most of the last 20 years – is a perfect example. Those who live outside its borders perceive California as the land of fruits and nuts where liberalism is out of control. But things aren’t always what they seem. The majority of Californians voted for Proposition 8, banning our right to marry there, which the California Supreme Court upheld. I guess Iowa is the new California. Go figure.
Another point to consider is that states most devastated by the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes – states like Michigan – would be hard pressed to pony up with the resources needed to fight the good fight statewide and win.
I support attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies in their filing of a lawsuit on behalf of two same-sex couples in U.S. District Court, a legal battle that will likely find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yes, it is a high stakes gamble, but Olson and Boies bring significant gravitas to the table, which could increase our odds.

Winning the right to marry state by state, as longtime LGBT activist Cleve Jones has suggested, is an inadequate approach to this issue. We deserve a unified national policy, not fragmented, piecemeal equality. That said, I urge LGBT people of Michigan and our allies to answer Jones’ call for us join a nationwide grassroots effort to march on Washington, D.C. in October. Our message to Congress and the Obama Administration according to Jones? “We seek nothing more and nothing less than equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.”
Finally, a recent Between The Lines editorial implored us “to set a date” for November 8, 2012 to repeal Prop 2. Let’s keep that date; a jilted bride is not a pretty sight. Still, it’s a marriage we shouldn’t have to settle for. In truth, there ain’t gonna be no party until we’re all – LGBT citizens of each and every state – invited.

Jeff A. Ward is a freelance columnist from Canton. To comment on this column, e-mail [email protected]

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.