Saturday, December 26, 2009

Marriage Equality Isn't the Only Legal Concern Facing LGBT Community

Between Proposition 8 in California and the fight for same sex marriage in Maine, there has been a lot of talk about the campaigns of the right wing to take away basic civil rights from members of the LGBT community. During many of these campaigns there is usually an emotional appeal to how supporters of same sex marriage are simply fighting for love and the fact that everyone should be able to have their relationships legally recognized. When I look at the issue, I have to admit that the emotional aspect of it is something that I strongly consider when I urge people to support marriage equality. In a post he wrote on Christmas Eve at Bilerico, however, “Father Tony” argued that the marriage issue really is about legal protections.

Tony’s post was written as a reflection on the relationship that he has with partner of 26 years – they have been married for 1 year. He points out that while marriage is a rewarding experience and that he’s glad he did it, a significant reason that he married was “to protect our assets and our rights and for the financial benefits.” He then went on to say that the fight for equality needs to continue but that there shouldn’t be an overemphasis on the struggle for marriage.

Although some people might not like the fact that he placed such an emphasis on the legal and financial benefits of marriage, I think Tony’s post highlights an overall theme that needs to be addressed. There are people in our country who constantly face discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. While there was recently a big victory when the hate crimes legislation was passed, there is still a lot of room for improvement and we’re waiting to see action on issues the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would make it illegal for employers to fire someone simply because of their sexual orientation and repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. In other words, Tony’s absolutely correct that marriage is something that should be addressed but there are other issues that need to be focused on as well.

What’s also been clear is that while there have been some shifts in public opinion in recently, marriage equality still remains something that is somewhat controversial. On the other hand, various polls have the public support for a fully inclusive ENDA between 65% and 80% and 56% of Americans (including 50% of those with family members in the military) believe that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be repealed. With the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and a Democrat in the White House, there should be more movement on the issue. Nonetheless, it appears as though the only way this will happen is if there is a large grassroots movement to make it clear that this should be a priority.

This is where shifting attention from marriage to one of these issues would truly come in handy. There are far to many people who believe marriage is the only political issue that the LGBT community is concerned about. This is partly because of all the campaigns surrounding marriage recently, but also because there still needs to be more voter outreach and education done on the issues. And that is where Tony is absolutely correct in implying that there are some people who have become so wrapped up in the movement for marriage equality that it was easy to forget about the other issues. As we move into 2010, we should be thankful for the victories that have already occurred but remember that there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done in the fight for equality.

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