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Must gay rights wait for our 'comfort'?

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Recently I had an argument with a close friend about the practicality of the GLBT community abandoning the "M" word and just going for Civil Unions and the rights and responsibilities that they would convey.

I politely disagreed with my friend and reminded him of the similarities between the African America Civil Rights' movement and the GLBT struggle for Equality.

Until June 12, 1967, in some American states it was illegal for African-American adults to marry white ones. In, Loving v. Virginia. U.S. Supreme Court ruled (9 to 0) that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional within the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice Warren said: "There can be no question that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race. . . .Marriage is one of 'the basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival. . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." Civil unions for interracial marriages were never part of the equation.

I raise the query because there's a lot of conversation in the aftermath of the New Jersey decision that legalized civil unions instead of marriage in the Garden State.

The story line has not just caused a much-needed debate about how Democrats must frame their values. It's also caused a queasy argument about whether the gay rights marriage movement was too much, too fast. The conversation is even going on in the gay community where every small dissenting voice is amplified like a family fight.

At heart are the old questions: Do you wait for people to be more comfortable to make change? Or do people only become more comfortable in the wake of change? Do you sacrifice incremental benefits by going for the whole enchilada? Or do small changes merely sustain the status quo?

Evan Wolfson, the author of "Why Marriage Matters," says that "the classic American pattern of civil rights advances is a patchwork of advances, resistance, regression, all at the same time." Today the map of America looks decidedly like a patchwork quilt.

The gay rights movement is not solely about marriage, and there are real gains in pursuing health benefits and Social Security. Activists, such as Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois, say gays need to tell the everyday stories of couples barred from hospital rooms and from health coverage.

But if we waited for comfort levels to rise, would we still have laws against interracial marriage? Would we be issuing civil unions for segregated marriages?

Six years ago, Vermont took the radical step of legalizing civil unions. Now civil unions are the moderate position. Does anyone think this shift in thinking would have happened without marriage on the agenda?

When same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, a huge uproar was predicted. But the sky never fell, and the uproar became a low hum. In Massachusetts, same sex couples now look like any other SUV couple with two parents, a kid, and a golden retriever on a quiet suburban street. We've even begun the next, less cheerful, chapter in equality: same-sex divorce.

There is nothing that the GLBT community can do to appease its opponents except, perhaps, disappear. But in one of the exit polls in the 2004 presidential election that got the least attention, 60 percent of voters favor either gay marriage or civil unions. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to favor marriage. To me, that is reason enough to fight for same sex marriages instead of civil unions.
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Travel website: The Pink Agenda. Several Blogs. Weekly newsletter, available upon request. Publications - Fiction: Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Odyssey - Floricanto Press 2003. Poetry: The Refined Savage Poetry Review - Refined Savage (more...)
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