Saturday, December 6, 2008

Finding common ground

I've spent a lot of time listening to the gloom and doom predictions from the other "side" of the gay rights divide, which has pretty much given me a thick skin. It's also enabled me to pick moments to call people on their bullshit. Every time there has been an advance in the gay rights movement, the world was supposed to end. Thirty years ago, Anita Bryant said that homosexuals are coming after the children, they're recruiting in the schools and parks, because they can't reproduce.

This in the face of the simple fact that every last gay & lesbian person on earth is the product of some type of heterosexual intercourse, whether it's from loving parents or a petri dish. Denying that basic truth is the essence of bullshit.

Gays and lesbians are a part of the fabric of this country. We are teachers and firefighters, accountants and lighting technicians. The country didn't end and the sky didn't fall when Proposition 6 failed to pass all these years ago, however much it may have chagrined poor John Briggs. We're thirty years on, and we need to learn from the past. The reason the sky didn't fall was because the rights of all Californians were protected. We, as a state, decided that enough was enough. That "...all men are created equal" meant just that: we couldn't and shouldn't prevent people from exercising their rights, nor should we take away their jobs for living the truth of their lives.

I say this because I'm not wholly optimistic about the chances of Prop 8 being thrown out by the California Supreme Court.

The surest way to radicalize a group is to dangle a right in front of them, only to snatch it away with an attitude of "maybe, if you're good, we won't take any more." That's where I think the opponents of same sex marriage have made a mistake. Increasingly, the campaign to take marriage rights away from gay people is being seen as misguided--if only because of the reaction by gays and lesbians, who are asking themselves "What's next?" The propositions that passed in Florida and Arizona answer that question in a way that ought to frighten us all. One step to the right (or across a state line) and all those hard-won battles are off the table: no marriage rights, no domestic partnership rights, no civil unions and, in some states, no employment rights.

Which is why we need to engage the middle, that mass of people in the center who may not really care about our issues. Because, fundamentally, their issues are our issues: the freedom to create a family, to hold a job, to vote, to be secure in our homes and our cities, to worship as we choose. In return, we ask that our government step in when necessary to promote and protect those freedoms and otherwise get out the way. In January 1941, less than a month after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Franklin Roosevelt defined the Four Freedoms that are essential for our society to thrive: freedom of speech and expression; freedom of worship; freedom from want and freedom from fear. That's all we ask as citizens, whether we're gay or straight. All of us need to wake up and remember those simple facts.

In that January speech, as he began defining the Four Freedoms, our President had these remarkably apt and prescient words to say:

"...For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those that can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all."

Think about these words, and let the people around you know that FDR was was right: taking away basic rights diminishes all of our freedoms. Engage the left, the middle, the right. Talk to your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends. Take the Bill of Rights out of your back pocket and read it. Share what it means to you, discuss how Proposition 8 flies in the face of the equity and fairness inherent in our Constitution. One by one, we can create a radical middle that believes in the inherent equality of all, that works to ensure that no one's rights are taken away on the whim of a bare majority or of the privileged few.

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