Whether you want to admit it or not, we are in the middle of a civil rights movement as important and historically significant as the black Civil Rights movement of the '60s. We see similar cultural and federal oppression in the lack of acceptance as regular citizens and the denial of basic rights. We also see progress through a combination of pivotal court cases, public debate, demonstrations and rallies, and changes to state laws.
Let’s take a look at the current situation and some of the impediments to change. Here’s a (really) quick summary of the situation of LGBT rights right now, and some of the progress of the last decade:
- In Lawrence vs. Texas (2003), the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in Texas, thereby invalidating sodomy laws in all other states and making same sex sexual activity legal nationwide.
- Same-sex unions are recognized in eight states and Washington D.C. Civil unions do not include all of the rights covered in a conventional marriage.
- The 2009 Matthew Shephard Act expands the protections afforded LGBT individuals under the 1969 hate crimes law.
- “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military.
- After the inclusion of Maryland, Washington, and Maine in the 2012 elections, same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states and Washington D.C.
The most commonly discussed issue for the LGBT community is marriage. One of most common arguments against same-sex marriage is that “it will ruin the American family.” I have never read nor heard a compelling argument for how gay marriage would ruin the American family, so I’m not going to waste my time arguing against that.
Another common argument that I’m really tired of is that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” Marriage is a legal term, with federal protections and civil and tax benefits, some of which we are denying homosexuals. So if you’ve found yourself using that argument, please consider these two more appropriate alternatives:
1. “I don’t think same-sex marriage should be allowed in my religious institution. I am, however, OK with same-sex couples receiving all the normal legal benefits of marriage, as defined by U.S. law.”
2. “I am a bigot hiding behind a popular argument.”
Those are very different answers, but it can be difficult to distinguish one’s intentions when they use the “marriage is between a man and a woman” argument.
What about civil unions?
Civil unions omit many crucial federal, social, and tax benefits of marriage, including the right to sponsor an immigrant spouse, and the right to take leave from work to care for your family. Additionally, only eight states (and D.C.) recognize civil unions, which means the legal benefits are not very portable. In short, civil unions are an inadequate attempt to address this issue; besides, how are civil unions any different from the “separate but equal” argument, so often used against the blacks during their civil rights movement?
The key legal battle is for nationwide acceptance of same sex marriage. However there are still many cases of discrimination in, to name just two common areas, the workplace and the adoption process. Cultural progress is necessary in more widespread acceptance and deeper understanding of LGBT people, particularly in religion and faith. (Note: I am not advocating federal encroachment on the rights of the church. Religion in America is free, and it always should be)
Whether you acknowledge it or not, the LGBT equality movement is a civil rights movement, and those who oppose it now will be viewed like the police who hosed the black protesters in Birmingham, or the many angry white men who organized against the blacks during their struggle. The way we millennials wondered at the black and white drinking fountains when learning about the Civil Rights movement, students of history 80 years from now will read about the LGBT struggle and wonder, "How could we have done that to them?"
History will already judge us for our bigotry, but we now have a chance to recognize the movement for what it is and pressure our politicians to implement the necessary changes.