Last month Windy City Times published an op ed piece we wrote about the struggle for equal marriage rights, based on a flyer we wrote and distributed at Northalsted Market Days.
Anti-Gay "Perfect Storm" Threatens
How Will Our Community Respond?
We are on the eve of what may be the gay rights battle of this century-several factors are triangulating to create the "perfect storm" over Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered rights.
With the prospect of possible pro-gay marriage court decisions coming out of Massachusetts and New Jersey soon, and in the wake of pro-gay actions by Europe, Canada, and the U.S. Supreme Court, the Pope threw down the gauntlet against gay marriage, and in a slightly more circumspect way, so did George Bush.
With the 2004 election hanging in the balance, pro-gay marriage decisions from the Massachusetts and New Jersey courts will likely prompt the President to put our rights in the cross hairs. If the economy continues to founder, the loss of lives continues in Iraq, and the growing scandal about Weapons of Mass Destruction erodes support for Bush, watch for Karl Rove and his buddies to seek an emotion-ladden "wedge issue" with which to divert the 2004 electorate.
This "perfect storm" over our rights and lives could involve either a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, or legislation to strengthen the anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act" that Bill Clinton signed.
Unfortunately, our community is a perfect target for this scapegoating. The vessel we have to weather this storm is a group of Democratic Party front-runners who still believe that they can SAY they favor LGBT equality, but ALSO oppose gay marriage.
Against the simplistic "right vs. wrong" for which the White House is now infamous, the Democratic front-runners with their muddled "support" of our community will have a difficult time being heard, much less understood. At the start of the gays in the military debate, does anyone remember the pathetic "resistance" to the bigots offered by newly-elected President Clinton? Does anyone remember how bigots such as Colin Powell, Sam Nunn, and Newt Gingrich walked all over him, and because we depended on him, our community bore the brunt of their homophobic blasts?
We are very likely on the edge of another such storm. Polls which had shown a steady drift in favor of gay rights leading up to the Supreme Court decision have now taken a decided turn against us. "In early May, legal relations [between same sex couples] were endorsed 60%-35%," reported USA Today. By July those numbers had slipped to 48% favoring us, versus 46% opposed, and "support hadn't been that low since 1996." The biggest shift backwards was among "respondents who said they attended church almost every week." Where we see a danger, the religious right sees a golden opportunity.
So how do we stand up to the sort of anti-gay vituperation we saw in the early months of the "gays in the military" debate shortly after Clinton's election? How do we weather the gale winds of this homophobia, AND win equal marriage rights?
To Win, We Need to Learn From Our History
As with the recent Supreme Court decision and possible court victories coming out of Massachusetts and New Jersey, our community won an important legal victory back in 1977. The Dade County Florida Commission passed a gay rights law. But because our community was not mobilized, Anita Bryant was able to launch a right-wing backlash with her "Save Our Children" crusade which rolled back pro-gay legislation in city after city. We lost not only valuable legislation, but a lot of people got hurt. Gay-bashings skyrocketed in each of the cities visited by Bryant's crusade.
But finally our community organized, with thousands pouring out in opposition to Bryant in cities like Chicago when her crusade came to town. This led to her Waterloo -- the defeat of the infamous California "Briggs Amendment," which would have banned gay teachers. And at the end of the day, it wasn't the politicians who stopped Bryant, it was the grass roots mobilization of our community, coming out into the streets in ever-greater numbers.
In Dade County, we didn't mobilize our community, but instead let the Commissioners fight our battle. Fifteen years later, at the tail end of the fight over what became "don't ask, don't tell," we had a magnificent mobilization in DC, but most LGBT leaders encouraged protesters to simply throw their support behind the President, even when it was clear he was about to sell us out. Polls which had been trending in our favor before Clinton's election took a nosedive against us. It wasn't until the unprecedented mobilizations of our community and allies in 1998, following Matthew Shepard's murder, that we began to turn back the Newt Gingrich/Jerry Falwell "Republican Revolution."
Today, with the strong possibility of a fight over a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, we need to be unequivocal in the demand for our equal rights. We need a movement which will not be held back by the temporizers in either party, whether they are office holders, or even members of the LGBT community.
We need to mobilize our community & our allies to say to the politicians of both parties:
* Do not pretend to be in favor of our equal rights if you do not favor equal marriage rights. We will not support those of you who treat us as second-class citizens. We will not ride in the back of your campaign bus.
* If you vote in favor of the anti-gay constitutional amendment, or any other anti-gay marriage rights measure, we will never vote for you again.
To give voice to these concerns:
* Please visit DontAmend.com and take the pledge to not support politicians who oppose our community.
* Please be prepared to attend Emergency Response Rallies around the country coinciding with the gay marriage decisions in either New Jersey or Massachusetts (which ever comes first): In Chicago, the rally will be at 7 pm, the evening of the decision, at the corner of Halsted & Roscoe.
* And hold this date for PRO-Lesbian and Gay marriage events in cities around the nation: Saturday, Feb. 14, 2004