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So fast, it’s hard to follow

Photo by Mark Singleton

Photo by Mark Singleton

When the homophobic California law called “prop 8” up for a vote, it passed mainly because of two things.

  1. Religions dumped millions of dollars into anti-gay advertising in the state. The Mormons and Roman Catholics gathered up their tax-free donations and used the money to influence a political struggle for equal rights. They’re hate-mongers, and there’s little excuse for not taxing them if they are going going to act like political machines.
  2. African American voters came out in record numbers because Prop 8 was on the same ballot as Barack Obama, the first black president. At the time, people of color were solidly against equal rights for gay men and lesbians. They helped push the anti-marriage measure through. It passed with 52% of the vote.

Since then, there has been a shift in public opinion like I’ve never seen before. In just a few short years, support for equal treatment for LGBT citizens has grown.

There are three reasons, I think.

  • More gay people have begun to live their lives in the open. They don’t hide. They aren’t closeted. This is huge. Study after study says that when straight people support equality for LGBT people, it’s because they know somebody who is gay. Just living openly and honesty is the best thing any LGBT person can do.
  • President Obama announced that he is not going to challenge DOMA (anti-marriage federal statute). He says his administration considers it unconstitutional. It is. When I was a kid, people could go to Las Vegas or Mexico to get a “quirky” divorce when their home state disallowed the divorce. After the quirky out-of-town divorce, it was accepted by the home state. There was never a question about it: if you get divorced in Las Vegas, you’re divorced everywhere. DOMA says that doesn’t apply to gay couples. Rick and I were married in Washington, DC. It was a legal wedding that is recognized by the civil authority in DC. It is recognized by the canons of my church. It is not recognized by my home state of Texas. It is not recognized by the federal government. What happened in DC is supposed to stay in DC, and that’s wrong. If a straight couple had gotten married there, Texas would see them as married. I don’t have equal protection. Texas is homophobic and wants to keep queers in their place. That’s wrong. DOMA is evil. The Texas constitutional amendment that says two dudes can’t get married is hateful and un-Christian, but bubba likes to be hateful. President Obama started a change in attitude when his administration told government lawyers to stand down in DOMA cases. It’s more than a legal move. It changes public perception of DOMA and all the anti-gay hate laws.
  • President Obama and Vice President Biden and several Cabinet secretaries have said publicly that they support marriage equality. The NAACP (the largest group for racial equality in the US) came out in support of gay marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center has branded some of the worst anti-marriage organizations as Hate Groups. They are! I personally am so grateful to the NAACP and SPLC for their action.

There was a time recently when I was building up a big resentment over this. I worked for equality for people of color. When I was a pimply-faced kid, I even took part in a march headed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I am not a newbie to the issue of equal rights. The content of ones character really is more important than some accident of birth, like skin color. I’ve worked and pushed and marched and protested, and I never did it wanting anything in return. It was just the right thing to do.

Then Prop 8 passed, and it passed because of people of color came out to vote for Barack Obama. LGBT equality isn’t a “civil rights” issue, they said. Marriage should be between one man and one woman, they said.

They are wrong. What we have in the US is marriage apartheid. Heterosexuals can marry, but they don’t want anybody else to have the same laws opened to same gender couples.

And then came Biden… and Obama… and the NAACP… and the SPLC. Reports about bullying and gay suicides became everyday reports on the news. The military started letting gay soldiers serve without lying about their sexual orientation (and the effectiveness of the military hasn’t suffered). Cadets who are openly gay are being graduated from American military academies, and they are beginning to serve with honor.

Now the shift has begun. Latino voters have always supported LGBT rights. In the big cities, gay ghettos are often situation right next to Latino neighborhoods. We’ve been buddies for years.

The change is with black voters. When President Obama and Vice President Biden talk about equal rights and justice, people listen. When the NAACP goes public over gay rights, people of color — especially older black people — notice.

I am so grateful to them. I am in awe of Mr. Obama. He truly is the first “gay president” … like Bill Clinton was the first “black president.”  President Obama didn’t have to do such a risky thing as come out so strongly for equal treatment for LGBT citizens. It was gutsy, and I am so grateful to him. What he did was more than the occasional lip-service some pandering politicians have done in the past.

When I first heard about it, I didn’t think it was a big deal. I was wrong. This is epic. It is huge, and I wish that we could get all those suicides back to see it. I wish we could bring soldiers like Leonard Malcovich back to life so he could see that soldiers don’t have to lie in the America.

It’s going to be huge when my marriage to Rick is recognized in Texas and the other hate-filled South. But the real news will be when two women get married, and it doesn’t make the news except in the wedding listings of the local paper. The real news is when we have equality that isn’t a big story.

Leonard Matlovich grave
Matlovich’s grave at the Congressional Cemetery. The tombstone reads: “A Gay Vietnam Veteran When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one” Photographer: Michael Bedwell

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