Friday, November 6, 2009

Ballots a Bust: Obama Fierce Advocate? Not.

Once again using fear-mongering and distortion tactics, fundamentalists squeaked out a victory against civil rights for LGBT citizens this Tuesday. The passage of Proposition 1 in Maine, was by a mere 6 percent of the voting public. Proposition 8 passed in California last year with a similar overwhelming majority, by a margin of just 5 percent.

Many of these voters state that they support equal rights for gays, just not for marriage. They support a "domestic union" policy, that would grant gays and lesbians full rights, as if they were truly equal. Apparently the electorate still doesn't understand: separate, is not equal.

The reality is, that it's a religious issue. It is for them, and it is for me. In my religion it is absolutely acceptable for same-sex partners to marry. But my religion is not the issue, and neither is theirs. The state does not confer a religious license of marriage upon it's citizens, it approves a civil agreement between them. To separate the two, breaks two firm covenants of the American legal system: Equal Protection and Religious Freedom. Which group are we going to deny? The minority group, of course. The question we should ask ourselves is, who will the minority be in 50 years? Or 100 years?

President Obama ran on a platform of "fierce advocacy" for gay and lesbian issues. Yet, he and his administration remained deafeningly silent during the debate on these propositions. Columnist Dan Savage stated that "President Obama is a fierce advocate of gay rights the same way I'm a ladies man. He isn't...and I'm not."

The ballot proposition initiative process was designed to give voters the opportunity to reign in excessive taxation, approve bond proposals, and occasionally sound off on inadequate or improper administration of government. Not to decide constitutional issues that effect an entire class of citizens. Issues that should, and historically have been, decided through careful and deliberate legislation with strong oversight by the courts, and typically requiring a super-majority (67%) for passage.

Many point to the courts and decry their involvement as "legislating from the bench". In fact, the balance of power was afforded the judicial branch for exactly such cases. To protect the few, from the tyranny of the many. Can we state with certainty that the civil rights movement of the 1960s would have ever occurred, if not for Brown v. The Board of Education? Obviously progress would come eventually, but at what pace?

President Obama has a "bully pulpit". And like his predecessors, the ability to shape the national conversation when he chooses. Having run as a "fierce advocate", LGBT advocates have every right to feel anger and betrayal over his silence. Comedian Lewis Black once stated, "I believe that the reason that it's difficult for the gay community to be integrated into the society at large, the way they should be, is because there are no champions for congress or in the white house. And, that is the way that every group of people, has basically been integrated into the society. That's the way it works."

If Mr. Black is eluding to political personalities, those with real national influence on the debate, I would sadly of August 25, 2009. On that date, arguably the strongest political advocate for LGBT equality passed away: Senator Ted Kennedy. His death was a great loss to our community, and we need desperately for someone of his stature to take the torch.

While personalities play a strong role in steering public debate, in the final analysis, we cannot rely on Obama, Kennedy, or any other public figure. Nor can we rely on ballot initiatives that allow a simple majority of voters, (not of the population), to determine our freedom and equality. For absolute and unqualified equality, it is in the courts that we will get final resolution. I submit that the place to start is challenging the constitutionality of state initiatives, when used to amend or restrict individual rights through a simple majority of voters.

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