It's been a big few weeks for marriage equality. News of polls showing rapidly shifting views from the public quickly gave way to seeing Vice President Joe Biden embrace full marriage rights for same-sex couples. That news was then followed by President Barrack Obama calling a special interview to announce his support as well, becoming the first sitting President to ever endorse full marriage equality. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a Mormon Democrat who has been somewhat conservative on social issues, even followed the President's lead in saying he supported equality. This quickly led to many other political figures weighing in on marriage.
Yet the same week all of this amazing progress was made in Washington DC on marriage equality, the crushing news came that North Carolina's bigoted Amendment 1, a far-reaching constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships in the state, passed by a wide 61-39% margin. After a tough and well-fought campaign from equality advocates, the loss was hard. We also saw a civil unions bill in Colorado killed twice by state Republicans, first using procedural roadblocks in the regular session of the state legislature and then again in special session.
It would seem there is something of a mixed message on marriage coming from the political world. In the same week that we have seen ever-increasing pro-marriage equality rhetoric from political figures like the President, we also see stinging electoral and legislative losses for even basic rights or relationship recognition. While many in the community feel elated that a sitting President and many other top politicians have come out in support of full equality, these type of state losses are painful and strike at the very core of the LGBT community, no mater where we live.
Watching the political process play out in real time, with its bigoted rhetoric and broad demonization of LGBT families, hits me hard every time. Seeing something as basic as the freedom to marry the person we love, and all the important rights that go along with it, put up for a popular vote or shot down by a few bigoted state legislators using procedural tricks is a painful process that drives home the glaring inequality in our country.
During the campaign in North Carolina, we saw a pastor like Fayetteville's Sean Harris tell his congregation to "punch girlish sons" and "walk over there and crack that wrist." Yet even with that overt call to child abuse from the pro-Amendment 1 side, ads also ran warning that marriage equality is the thing that will hurt kids. As the polling numbers got closer and election day loomed, the rhetoric heated up from anti-equality groups, shining a light on the ugliest side of the our society.
And it's that process-- that ugly, bigoted message that comes from voting on LGBT rights-- that not only strikes at our hearts, but also sends a powerful message to young people struggling to come out. While we work so hard to send the message that "It Gets Better" to young LGBT people around the country, political setbacks like this (and the high profile hate that comes from it), are extremely dangerous. As painful as it is for us to watch as adults, think of the signal it sends to our youth. We must be sure to combat that damaging message, even in the face of our loss at the ballot box.
That's why having the President of the United States, arguable the most powerful person in the world, come out and not only say he supports marriage equality, but also follow through on the words with concrete actions is so important in combating the still existing hate and bigotry in our country. Refusing to defend the odious "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) in the courts and having the Justice Department put out a scathing memo on its unconstitutionality, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), passing hate crime laws, strengthening the rights same-sex families have in hospitals, and many other actions in the past three years help combat the damaging message sent by political losses. It also contrasts with the retrograde views of people like GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who reiterated not just his opposition to marriage equality, but also civil unions and adoption rights for same-sex couples, even vowing to make adding a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and writing discrimination into the constitution itself.
Setbacks like the ones in North Carolina and Colorado, as well as the horrendous views of politicians like Romney, must serve as a wake up call and reminder to every fair-minded American about the constant push to roll-back our hard won battles for equality. Equality Illinois laid out the warning Amendment 1 should send to us all, no matter where we live or how supportive our communities are, saying, "The vote in North Carolina, made possible by a decision in the state legislature to hold the public referendum, demonstrates that in states like Illinois, where civil unions are legal and the fight for recognition of same-sex marriages is underway, the election of each state Representative and state Senator is in an important battle for our rights. That is why it is imperative that this November, we get out and vote for the legislative candidates who stand for equality or against discrimination."
We've seen how bigotry, fear-mongering, and misinformation can slow down our inevitable march towards equal rights. That's why we need to recommit to the fight for equality on all levels-- at the ballot box, in the courts, and in our legislatures. Constant vigilance, pressure on those in power, continued public education, and activism should only be strengthened in this moment in history of both progress and defeat. So while it hurts to see our lives and families batted around like some crass political issue, it should also push us to work harder to combat the loud, yet diminishing, voices of a hateful movement.
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