December 23, 2009

Bring the change

Happy holidays to all! As we bid adieu to 2009 and welcome 2010, it seems like a good time to reflect, take stock, and figure out where we stand concerning matters that are important to us.

Personally, 2009 has proven to be one of the most positive years of my life, as I am growing into a full life of stability, productivity and joy. I am grateful and looking forward to what 2010 will bring.

But for the gay community as a whole, there is a bigger picture of change happening, and it is difficult not to acknowledge the remarkable progress that the gay rights movement has made nationally over the last year.

Caution: political language coming. Obviously, I want to have equal civil rights. I know that. But the only other thing about politics that is clear to me is that it is meant to be confusing.

Just like any time of meaningful change, 2009 was a roller-coaster ride of political momentum, each month offering a new law protecting gays, or a ban against gay marriage, or a repeal on a ban, or both. Over the last 12 months, it seems that for every celebration for gay rights, there was an equally crushing setback. In May, the California Supreme Court decided to uphold the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage (Proposition 8), but allowed the 18,000 gays who tied the knot while the ban was lifted to stay legally wed. In the same month, Maine legalized same-sex marriage only to have voters repeal it later in November. President Obama calls himself a “fierce advocate of equality” but supports the Defense of Marriage Act, which says that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. He is inconsistent, but for a politician, that’s pretty consistent.

This year showed us that if we leave it up to the politicians, equality could take a very long time. It requires more than just our amazing and dedicated political activists to bring the change that we deserve. I’m no political expert, but I am pretty sure it’s going to take you, me, the activists, the politicians and everybody else who cares to purposefully support equal rights, especially in the coming year.

So where, when and why do we stand? As of now (and this is certainly subject to change), five states recognize same-sex marriage under law (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire). Five other states provide “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” with access to the state-level benefits of marriage (California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Nevada). Washington, D.C., just passed a law that means same-sex marriages could begin as early as February 2010. The state of New York recognizes same-sex marriage legally entered in another jurisdiction only, while Hawaii, Colorado, Maine, Maryland and Wisconsin provide same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. At the federal level, same-sex couples do not receive rights or responsibilities anywhere in the United States.

On a global scale, seven countries legally allow homo marriage: Canada, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium, while a ton of other countries provide rights for gays. In 2009, Iceland elected the first openly gay head of government in the modern world (although I bet some Romans were out back in the day). As of Dec. 21, Mexico City became the first Latin American city to legalize same-sex marriage and allow us homos to adopt children (which is a whole other column). The other side of the coin is that a long list of countries actually criminalize same-sex relations and have forced gays and lesbians to live in fear for centuries. It is difficult to know where you stand when the landscape is always changing, so I try to remind myself that the importance is the change itself.

Organizations like your local Fairness Campaign and the national Human Rights Campaign work every day of the year for equal rights. Simply by signing up to volunteer or receive e-mails, or by researching and signing petitions, we can bring more of the change in 2010. If everyone in the country can continue to make their voices known to lawmakers, we will have a fair shot at fairness. Next year is an opportunity for anyone who supports gay rights (whether you are gay, straight, bi, trans, an ally, or just think it’s the right thing to do) to get active and bring a swift and clear message to the country: Quit effing around, equal rights for all. And to all a good night.