Editors' Note: Guest blogger Carlos Mock, MD has published three books and is the Floricanto Press editor for its GLBT series. He was inducted in the Chicago Gay & Lesbian Hall of Fame in October of 2007. He grew up middle-class in the suburbs of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This year, an unprecedented turnout of voters went to the polls and elected the first African American President, however, gay rights did not advance--all but one state took away gay rights from their citizens.
We do not view these results as reason for despair. Struggles over civil rights never follow a straight trajectory, and the outcome of these ballot fights should not obscure the building momentum for full equality for gay people, including acceptance of marriage between gay men and women. But the votes remind us of how much remains to be done.
In Illinois, state representative Greg Harris has introduced HB1826, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act that would grant civil union rights to same sex couples. We regret that the leaders of our state's Democratic-controlled Legislature do not view this issue with urgency. The bill has been "sidetracked" and may die in the veto session.
Although civil unions are an inadequate substitute for marriage--because they create a separate, new legal structure to confer some benefits to same-sex couples, which neither honors American ideals of fairness, nor does it grant true equality--they are a path in the right direction. Ten years ago, we would not even thought to discuss the subject.
As a matter of fact, four years ago we were used as a punching bag by the religious right. Twenty referenda were added in twenty states singling out gay rights so as to turn out the Republican base. It worked: George W Bush was re-elected and we lost all but one of the referenda.
While our country received a strong dose of positive change on November 4, 2008, it was not to be for gays and lesbians. They got more of the same--the same discrimination and nonsense they've dealt with for far too long.
Not all the results for same-sex marriage were negative. In Connecticut, voters rejected a proposed constitutional convention through which opponents of same-sex marriage wanted to overturn a recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, on sound equal protection grounds, allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Far from showing that California's Supreme Court was wrong to extend the right of marriage to gay people, the passage of Proposition 8 is a reminder of the crucial role that the courts play in protecting vulnerable groups from unfair treatment. The issue is whether rights secured under the state Constitution's safeguard of liberty as an "inalienable" right may intentionally be withdrawn from a class of persons by an initiative amendment. Voters are allowed to amend other parts of the Constitution by majority vote, but to use the ballot box to take away an "inalienable" right would establish a "tyranny of the majority," which most Constitutions were designed, in part, to prevent.
When a minority group is targeted for discrimination, when their rights are under assault at the ballot box, the ineptness of the political campaign waged to defend that minority does not excuse the actions of voters who back discrimination. White people ultimately have a responsibility not to be racist; men have a responsibility not to be sexist; Gentiles have a responsibility not to be anti-Semitic. And straight people--of whatever race, or whatever religion--have a responsibility not to be homophobic.
It will be up to the GLBT community to fight its own battles. While Barack Obama had said that he supports dropping the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and is in favor of civil unions, he still seems to be following the line that marriage was crafted as an institution that only a man and woman should have access to.
These next four years need to be when the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens become as inalienable as anyone else's. When our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are as indisputable as anyone else's.
Whether we have access to the cultural and economic advantages of marriage should not be up for debate. Whether we can be denied the right to assemble, the right to hold our jobs, the right to adopt our children--create and protect our families, or the protection to live in our apartments--will not be up for debate.
The Bill of Rights' Fourteenth Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." should be applied to every citizen in spite of their sexual orientation or gender identity.