Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Vote of the Majority Cannot Determine the Rights of the Minority

Proposition 8 brought national attention to gay rights. Written to affirm that marriage could only occur between a man and woman, it stopped gays from marrying in California. The 1500 gay couples already married waited, again, in limbo until the state supreme court agreed to not take back the sanctity of their vows. The New York State Bar announced that marriage is the only way to equality (Storey). Furthermore, six states have passed legislation to recognize the union of gay people, yet the rest of the nation seems to continue with its bigotry. I remember standing at Gay Pride at Atlanta several years agon and watching a float that said TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ENGAGED, HOW MUCH LONGER MUST WE WAIT? Reams have been written about the rights given to heterosexual couples that are denied to homosexual couples, including tax breaks, inheritance, and joint ownership of property. But the problem is not limited just to marriage. Gay people’s rights have also been suppressed regarding service for our country, safety, and even in the definition of family. Until this nation recognizes the rights of gays across all platforms, we are allowing the opinions of the majority to legislate the rights of a minority.

While campaining, President Obama made a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. Despite his promise, it does not appear that Congress will ever send him a bill reversing the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, our own president has not followed through on his promise to the minority. The current policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” does not allow gay military personal to live anything but a celibate life requiring them to suppress their sexual orientation. Specifically, National Guard officer Dan Choi was the first New York National Gaurd member to be discharged for "homosexual conduct" (Kates). Certainly the injustice of such discrimination seems to go unnoticed and unheeded by our current administration. The Obama administration seems to fear embracing gay rights because they do want to provide social conservatives a rallying cry while the president is trying to assemble legislative coalitions on health care and other initiatives. Concerning gay's right to marry, Orange County newlyweds Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer are using President O'Bama's word's against him in their lawsuit. Based on the president's preinargual comments, their lawyer aruges that the administration is on "the wrong side of the case, in light of Obama's latest comments" (Egelko). Their attorney aruges that"I'm not sure who the attorneys for the United States are representing." So once again the appeal to the majority overrides the needs of the minority.

If our own president does not follow through with his promise to our serviceman, we certainly cannot expect our state legislatures to do any better. Indeed, our own state has failed to protect its gay citizens by refusing to enact hate crime legislation. When Sean Kennedy was murdered at a Greenville bar, the FBI could not classify his death as a hate crime (Smith). Consequently, his murderer served ten months in prison for manslaughter, despite the obvious bigotry of his actions. It is time for our state and country to recognize the danger of not protecting gays. Despite Elkie Kennedy's considerable work to bring the tragedy of her son's death before South Carolina's citizens, despite numerous newspaper articles regarding hate crime, and despite several bills brought before the South Carolina legislature, nothing has changed. We cannot even track the number of gay related hate crimes in our state because no legislation exists to recognize hate crimes. Furthermore, without that information, the FBI is also handicapped in compiling accurate statistics. Without hate crime laws, the FBI cannot even track deaths like Sean's. Moreover, without hate crime legislation, Stephen Moller plea bargained to involuntary man slaughter. Such horrible events clearly demonstrate the inability of our government to protect the safety of a minority.

There are also huge controversies surrounding gay families. Six states currently assume that gay parents are unfit to raise children. Often the heterosexual parent will appeal to the court for custody based on sexual orientation. In at least six states custody is automatically granted to the heterosexual parent and courts may inhibit the gay parent’s visitation rights (Kendall). In addition, without legislation, if a lesbian couple chooses to have a child, one bears the child but the other wants custody, without gay sensitive legislation, neither parent is protected. As more couples turn to invetro fertilization, legislation and courts will determine family relationships and rights. If one mommy birthed the child and other mommy caught her at birth, then both deserve to have their rights as parents recognized (Mrs. Kramer Vs. Mrs. Kramer). Without the benefit of marriage, gay parents are often ordered in court documents to never see their children in the presence of their live in partners (Gaines). Eleven states inplicitly or explicitly restrict gay couples from adopting children (Gandossy). Once again, we must recognize the rights of gays to determine the rights of the individual situation.

The civil rights movement of the sixties clearly demonstrated the struggle of a minority to gain their rights. More and more heterosexuals ally themselves with the gay rights movement as they come to understand that inhibiting the rights of a minority can ultimately inhibit the rights of all. Certainly, justice cannot be served when we rely upon the vote of the majority to give rights to the minority. It is time that our governments, federal state and local, recognize the needs of all its citizens. All citizens have a right to choose who they want to marry, to live in safety and to have their rights as parents recognized.

Works Cited

Egelko, Bob. "Gay couple's weapon in lawsuit: Obama's words." San Francisco Chronical. 23 Jun. 2009. Web. 9 Jun. 2009/

Gadossy, Judith. "Gay adoption: A new take on the American family." 27 Jun. 2007. Web. 9 Jul. 2009.

Gaines, Judith. "Recent hate crime reopens need for legislation." The Boston Globe. 14 Sep. 1993. Web. 9 Jul. 2009.

Kates, William. "Board: Discharge Gay NY National Guard Officer." San Francisco Chronical. 30 Jun. 2009. Web. 9 Jul. 2009.

Kendall, Kate. "Lesbian and Gay Parents in Child Custody and Visitation Disputes." Summer 2003. American Bar Association. Web. 7 Jul. 2009.

"Mrs. Kramer Vs. Mrs. Kramer." 15 Dec. 2008. Newsweek. Web. 7 Jul. 2009.

Smith, D. A. "Recent hate crime reopens need for legislation. " Charleston City Paper.18 Jul. 2007. Web. 8 Jul. 2009.

Storey, Jeffrey. "N.Y. State Bar 'Refines' Position on Same-Sex Couples, Says Marriage Is the Only Possible Path to Equality." New York Law Review. 24 Jun. 2009. Web. 9 Jul. 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Eloquently said.
    I decided a while back that now that I'm in my middle years that it's time to return to my early activist ways. They're building a "Right's Center" here in Atlanta and I've volunteered my skills. While the main thrust of the center is geared towards people of color you can't fight for the rights of some and leave others alone - you'd best believe I'll be campaigning for the GBL&T community. I want all of my friends to have the same basic rights that I do - it's just the way things should be.