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Yesterday’s California supreme court ruling on gay marriage was a joyous event and should be celebrated with utter abandon. For some reason the image of Harvey Milk and his infectious smile have been floating around in my head since I heard the news. Congratulations to all activists whose courage and sacrifice made this day possible.

Unfortunately, with any civil rights victory, one is forced to immediately ponder the consequences. The fear of a violent backlash. The fear that such a historic victory could lead to a political backlash that could effect the upcoming election so critical to our very existence.

There are certainly parallels to February 2004, when the Massachussets Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, arguably helping Bush win states like Ohio in November. Could this ruling have a similar catastrophic effect? Or are things different in 2008? SF Mayor Gavin Newsom thinks so. He called it, “a golden oldie for the Republicans, and I think they’ve played it one too many times” (chronicle) Gavin may be right, but gay rights were indeed a huge issue in 2004 and many Democrats feel the fires were stoked both by the timing of the Massachussets ruling as well as Gavin’s city hall matrimonial actions in 2004. One could certainly argue that homophobia will play as well today in Ohio as four years ago.

So should we celebrate this victory quietly until November? Should gay people not hold hands or kiss in public until McCain is defeated? Or should they do the exact opposite and follow Harvey’s call to come out like never before?

Barrack Obama has a similar dilemma. Does he come out in full support of gay marriage? This would bring a smile to my lips, and further ingratiate him with his base, but would it help him get elected? Does he stick with his “civil unions” stance? Or is there an alternative in which the government treats all people the same– with civil unions– while “marriage” becomes a strictly religious institution (such has been proscribed by the authors of “Nudge”)?

Its an age old dilemma, one that leads to angry debate  (witness the criticism Barney Frank has taken for his compromises). But this is one that must be considered with utmost care as the lives of millions are at stake.

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Mildred Loving is a black woman who married a white man and almost went to  prison for it. Not in 1930. In 1967! She gave a statement last year on the 40th anniversary of her and her husband’s miscegenation case. She eloquently draws the parallels between her situation and the current debate on gay marriage. Here’s an excerpt:

“My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

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