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Marriage equality battles and where we can strive for more

John Newsome, in a Newsday op-ed, draws a comparison between the moral and elected leadership of South Africa when it comes to support for marriage equality to the cowardly leaders in this country who are timid about standing up for a civil rights issue — and he names names, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The overall message though, is that our politician can do much more.

On Dec. 1, South Africa’s Parliament made headlines around the world when it granted same-sex couples the right to marry. This groundbreaking law did not arrive without major struggle. Its passage is a powerful testament to those committed and unyielding moral leaders who demanded nothing less than full equality for gays and lesbians.

…Sadly, back in the United States, we are waiting for our own Desmond Tutus and Mosiuoa Lekotas to defend the humanity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) couples. Even within the Democratic Party, too many politicians have been AWOL on the issue of marriage equality, kowtowing to antigay prejudice – betraying the party’s commitment to civil rights.

Despite a solid majority’s support for the end of marriage discrimination in Massachusetts, Sen. John Kerry opposed nuptial equality. Although Clinton now says she’s “evolved” and not opposed to marriage equality, she shirks making a case for same-sex marriage. While Obama generally inspires, his stance on marriage equality is frustratingly equivocal.

…The equivocation of our national leaders (on this and other important issues) reflects their own cowardice, true, but it also reflects the LGBT community’s willingness to compromise too much. Many donors and activists, for example, are giving a pass to elected officials who fail to stand up for full marriage equality, maintaining that “civil unions are enough.” “Enough” suggests that there can be “too much” fairness for LGBT people. If only.

In stark contrast, South African LGBT activists were unyielding in their struggle, drawing strength from and giving strength to the country’s courageous moral leaders. Refusing to settle for civil unions, South Africa’s social movement for full marriage equality triumphed.

I actually disagree with the premise that we should accept zero incremental gains while working for full marriage equality. The U.S. is not in the same political position as South Africa, (sorry to say), as state after state here has passed constitutional marriage amendments banning gays and lesbians from marrying. 

More rant after the jump.Anti-amendment campaigns that appealed to Americans’ sense of fairness and justice to gay couples clearly hasn’t worked, as the right-wing noise machine played to fears — and that won out. There are too many people undereducated (gay, straight and otherwise)  about marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and marriage amendments. We are already in the hole here, trying to dig out, as gays and lesbian couples are watching rights and benefits revoked as a result of those amendments.

Full marriage equality — with the ability for us to use the word “marriage” — will not occur until the Supreme Court resolves the patchwork of civil unions, domestic partnerships, and Massachusetts marriage in a decision that goes our way.  States that institute civil unions or domestic partnerships grant gays and lesbian rights they didn’t have before, and give time to affect legislative change that opens the door to marriage. I would welcome civil unions in my state (NC), as opposed to fighting an amendment threat year after year.

Until a SCOTUS decision goes our way, I do agree with Newsome on the matter of cowardly leadership in the U.S. We need elected officials and candidates for office who are willing to take this issue to its logical next step — full support of civil unions, including the repeal or amendment of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Civil unions, if DOMA is addressed, would give, on paper, all the benefits and rights of marriage countrywide, and provide a strong challenge to institutionalized marriage inequality before the Court because we know that CUs will be challenged and ignored, particularly in states that are resistant and hostile to LGBT rights.  We all know that separate and unequal doesn’t work, but it will help force the issue while protecting and enhancing the rights of people currently under threat. 

The problem with the Dems running for president is that they perceive a public LGBT civil rights battle as only a risk, not critical or even helpful to electoral success. They are hellbent on “playing it safe” with gays, even if they privately believe in full equality. Don’t think that if any one of the top — or even second —  tier is elected that the immediate goal will be to ensure a second term, and they will ask for homo patience yet again.

The entire political game has played itself out over several election cycles as low-information sheeple vote (particularly the get-out-the-vote evangelicals) has been courted; you can see it in the silence regarding homophobia in the black community, a core voting base. This is not about taking bold steps for the principles of equality they may privately believe in, it’s about maintaining silence and support and taking a defensive position that accepts the GOP frame. It’s apparent that they believe that it’s too difficult to lead on this issue, to challenge misconceptions held by the American people about fairness and equality. They’d rather take the safest political road possible, and that still means taking our money and expecting no pushback.

If a campaign claims “discrimination is wrong” and continues to toss civil unions out there as a salve, then anything less than a call for an end to DOMA as well should get a “talk to the hand.”

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Also, there is an excellent special report in The Advocate this week, “Gay law for beginners” (not available online), that gives a rundown on the status of LGBT rights, including marriage equality, from a legal perspective.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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