Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Our Journey to Equality

Last night Americans spoke loudly in favor of equality. We sent a clear message, and it wasn't so much a message about the candidates as it was about the issues.

Equality has always been one of the top issues for me. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are a part of our society, always have been and always will be, and the idea that an entire group of Americans should be systematically discriminated against is appalling to me.

Twelve years ago I got involved with my first political campaign - the Yes on 6 campaign in Maine. I got involved in this effort through the gay/straight alliance group at school. We worked hard. We made phone calls from our own phones, went door to door, wrote letters, passed around petitions, and drove people to the polls. We heard countless stories from Maine citizens who had been fired, bullied out of their jobs, evicted from their homes or denied housing in the first place - not to mention the stories that had been there all along about people in long-term committed relationships being unable to visit their sick partner in the hospital or receive health or life insurance benefits. We also had countless experiences of being shouted at, cursed at, and threatened by people who were very uncomfortable with the idea of ending these forms of discrimination. There was a lot of energy on our side of the campaign, though, and we were full of hope that we would be part of the group that would really bring about change, equality for ALL Americans no matter who we love in our private lives.

But despite the energy on our side, there was a lot of resistance on the other side, and we ended up losing. It was the same year that Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in a highly controversial election that was riddled with many different kinds of fraud, and the despair among our group of equality supporters was palpable.

Even though we lost that particular fight, as time went by we started to see something happening. It was happening in Maine, but it was also happening all over the country. Over the past decade, there has been a lot of lively national - no, GLOBAL - discussion about marriage equality, and there has been an incredible shift. Twelve years ago I was about as discouraged as I could get, but since then as months, years, and entire campaign seasons have gone by, I’ve been so proud to see a new landscape unfolding.

Equal rights for GLBT people has been a defining civil rights issue for our generation. The debate in our country has gone on and on, but the voices who speak out against discrimination have been speaking louder and louder, and last night our voices were heard loud and clear.

We don’t have the right to use our own religious and moral beliefs to deny a normal, legal marriage and family life to an entire group of American people. It is not okay for people of a particular religion or philosophy to continue insisting that their way is the only “moral” or “right” way. And this is not an attack on religion - it has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with the rights of a substantial percentage of the American population. Our right to work, live, love, raise our families and contribute to our societies in peace and safety.

Giving equal rights to all Americans, whether gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, or none of the above, does not revoke anyone else’s right to live their own life, worship their own God, or raise their own family.

Today, the day after America banded together and voted for equality, I am beaming with pride. I’m incredibly proud to have played a small role in the work we’ve done. I’m proud to be involved in this movement for equal rights, and excited about what the future holds. As I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, this issue has only gotten more important to me. There is so much that is uncertain in our world, and Americans should have the right to be confident in the security of their own family.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but I’m seeing the tide turn and I’m overwhelmed with pride for our incredible country. We have been testing the water with anti-discrimination laws and domestic partnerships. There have been tremendously discouraging votes that were very close but ended up voting down equality, but there is a ripple effect underway. We have put our collective foot down. Last night we spoke up in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. We’ve already spoken in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Washington DC.

Beyond elected officials and ballot measures, we've grown so much as individuals and as a society. We speak out against hateful slurs, against bullying, and against discrimination in many forms. We've used our power as consumers, as voters, and as concerned citizens to send the message over and over again, all across our country, that we will not stand by while our we, or our friends, relatives, coworkers, neighbors, sons, daughters, parents, receive different treatment under the law because of the gender of the person they happened to fall in love with. We will no longer stand by and allow a policy of discrimination to cast a shadow over American families.

If you are against gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay person. But there is no way in which allowing GLBT couples the same rights as straight couples will cause harm. Conflicts between religious beliefs and someone elses civil rights should be handled in churches, not in our government. We are all Americans and we have equal right to live and love in the United States of America, and the group of us who believes in equality is only continuing to grow.

I’m an incredibly proud American today. My heart is full of hope and optimism. No harm can come from letting go of old and hurtful patterns. When we focus only on our differences we drive ourselves farther and farther apart. Let us join hands and walk together into our future and focus on how we can bring our country together.

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