There’s so much going on — Afghanistan, health care, unemployment, Iraq, global warming — hey, it’s getting hard for cable news to find more than 20 or 25 minutes an hour to devote to reality TV party crashers and non-stories about golfers.  It’s easy to lose track of where things stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender American citizens, who are legally relegated to second-class status.  Their marriages aren’t recognized under federal law or in most states, and they can get thrown out of the military if someone has a grudge against them.  They can’t adopt in some states, and if they lose their job because of anti-LGBT bias, they have no legal recourse under federal law or most state laws.  They often can’t get health insurance benefits at work for their loved ones, and if they do, they pay taxes that don’t affect their straight co-workers.

But it’s easy to say "now isn’t the time" when someone brings up the question of making tax-paying, law abiding LGBT Americans full citizens of this country.  The moral indignity of this legalized system of discrimination often gets placed on the infamous back burner.  I think we’re presented with a false choice, though.  Just because we are dealing with an economic crisis, wars, and urgently needed health care reform doesn’t mean we can’t also take basic measures to ensure equality for all.  (In fact, it’s a win-win: letting same-sex couples marry has benefits for the economy and allowing gay and lesbian service-members to serve openly would obviously help our overextended military).

A couple of things I read in the last few days reminded me why equality is as urgently needed as anything else.  One was coverage of a surreal piece of legislation in Uganda that would subject any person convicted of "gay sex" to life imprisonment.  Anyone failing to report an LGBT person they know to the authorities could be imprisoned for three years.

Thankfully, we don’t have legislation like this pending here–though it wasn’t that long ago that we had criminal penalties for consensual same-sex sexual activity on the books here in the U.S.–the Supreme Court just struck down such laws in 2003, and, actually some still remain on the books, though they are now unenforceable).  However, the Ugandan "anti-homosexuality bill" was introduced by David Bahati, a member of the shadowy "Family", a fundamentalist power center exposed in Jeff Sharlet’s book.  The Family includes both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.  It would be nice if someone asked these members to condemn the action taken by their Ugandan Family member.  It’s way past time for American politicians to move past anti-LGBT rhetoric and to make clear they stand for equality–too often, our elected officials fall terribly short in this area.

I was also struck by a short piece in yesterday’s Washington Post — Samuel Johnson explained what it was like for him to grow up gay in the United States: "I was raised Roman Catholic, and as a youth I always dreamed of being married one day. But like so many closeted gay youths, that dream stayed silent within me because I truly wanted to be with a person of my sex. Meanwhile, at Catholic school, I was beaten, pushed, spat upon and harassed — not because I was gay but merely because I was perceived as being gay. And as a Catholic, I accepted this abuse because the church taught that homosexuality was an abominable sin. This self-hatred took years to undo as an adult. This is not a unique story among gays, believe me."

Johnson praised the D.C. Council and Mayor Fenty for taking steps to bring marriage equality to Washington, D.C.  His powerful words remind that the effects of inequality are not abstract.  Lives are wrecked, children are harassed, people are murdered because they are seen as different–and marked by the law and society as different.  Updating the laws would be a good step toward changing this.  We can do this even as we grapple with other problems.  Hey, cable news could even shine a real light on this reality if it could spare a few of the minutes it’s currently devoting to would-be reality TV stars and golf heroes.

Chris Edelson

Chris Edelson

Chris is a lawyer and professor at American University who writes frequently about current political and media issues. His writing has also been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metroland (Albany, NY), and at commondreams.org

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