Imagine you’re reading up on the African American Civil Rights Movement. Imagine reading that after fighting for full equality and civil rights for decades, the African American community only achieved equal rights in eight states. If this were how it had occurred (and thankfully it is not), the history of the African American civil rights movement, relative to how we understand it today, would have been far less dramatic, and far less dignified; and yet, this is currently the lamentable state of the gay rights movement in the United States; struggling state-by-state, county-by-county, one court ruling, one popular vote, one passing and then overturning at a time.
In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed. It outlawed discrimination against, and guaranteed basic rights for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, as well as women. This landmark piece of legislation is but one example of how no minority in the long and powerful history of American minority rights movements has ever won complete civil rights by fighting at the state and local level. The notion of struggling for basic human and civil rights in such a way is absurd, and yet, it has become the narrative of the gay rights movement in the United States. The compelling example of the African American Civil Rights Movement is a far cry from the events that took place in California in November 2008 when Proposition 8 was passed by voters, overturning the previous California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex-marriage only months earlier. For the lives and the rights of the LGBT community, too much is at stake to have to fight this issue state-by-state.
Simply put, the civil and human rights of LGBT Americans must be recognized and enshrined within American laws and within the American constitution. The LGBT community does not want civil unions; it wants marriage equality. While it is true that one may get married in one of the few states with legalized same-sex-marriage, under the Defense of Marriage Act, in the eyes of the federal government this marriage is not legitimate. However, in the past several years there have been successes such as the overturning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which barred openly gay members of the military from serving; and for the first time in history, a sitting president (Barack Obama) has publicly supported of marriage equality. In the past year, three more states (Washington, New Jersey, and Maryland) have all legalized same-sex marriage. These victories are tenuous, however. In New Jersey, for example, the bill has been vetoed, and in each of the other states listed, a ballot measure calling for the overturn of such legislation has been prepared for future vote.
The bottom line is that the gay rights movement, and the United States, not only need a federal marriage amendment, but also a comprehensive national civil rights act for LGBT Americans. It should be remembered that it was the federal government that ended slavery, segregation, and uplifted a ban on interracial marriage. What is freedom and democracy but the right to choose? It is having options. The LGBT community’s options for the future are no longer remaining in the closet. For the future there’s hope. Numerous national polls have shown that for the first time, the majority of Americans are now in favor of same-sex marriage. Therefore, it will be up to this generation to demand more of the American government, not within every county courthouse or state assembly, but on the floor of Congress or in the halls of the Supreme Court. To quote the gay rights activist Harvey Milk, “All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.” That is not only what Massachusetts, Vermont, or New York is about. It is what Americans hold to be self-evident; that fundamental and inalienable rights should be guaranteed to every American citizen, regardless of race, creed, and sexual orientation. If only the federal government would recognize this.