Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Election Reflection

This was the scene at the state Capitol building in Florida on November 15, 2008.  More than 350 LGBT people and their allies marched and cried out for justice against a popular vote that effectively cast me and the hundreds of thousands of others like me into the outer darkness of "No marriage equality for you!"  Florida, along with Arizona, California, and Arkansas, put the civil rights of gay people on the ballot.  And we lost.  And it hurt.  A lot.

I remember it very well.  So many of my straight friends were crying and rejoicing at the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President and a welcome relief after eight years of the George W. Bush administration.   I, on the other hand, was crying and unable to look people in the eye for the next few days because of what 61-percent of my fellow citizens had done at the ballot box. Adding to the pain was the realization that too many of my straight friends simply did not get why I was upset.  "But Obama won!" they'd say, with a cheerful smile.   A hollow victory for those of us in the gay community of Florida.

November 15th became the day the LGBT community of Tallahassee and the nation became resolved to not take these cynical and punitive assaults on our rights lying down.  Across the country, there were Join the Impact rallies which served as places of public confession about the pain we'd suffered, the anger we harbored, and the need for us to get active to change hearts and minds so that we wouldn't keep getting clobbered every election cycle.  My partner and I were among the organizers of the Tallahassee rally, and it was truly a moment of "Wow!" to finally see a large turn out in favor of gay rights that included more than just the usual suspects of the LGBT community.

That "Wow!" became a capital letter "WOW!" last night.  What a difference four years makes!  Maryland voters said "Yes" to marriage equality.  The electorate in Maine, a state where the voters repealed a pro-equality marriage law by a "people's veto" in 2009, changed their mind and have reinstituted marriage rights.  Same in Washington State.  And Minnesotans didn't take the bait on an anti-marriage constitutional amendment.   Add to that the election of our first openly-lesbian U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and several other openly gay candidates, including two new state Representatives in Florida, and, well.... WOW!  A clean sweep of equality. 

What a difference it makes when the President of the United States declares that he has evolved on the issue of marriage equality and believes that people like me should be allowed to marry our partners.   What a change it makes when younger people stream in huge numbers to the polls to make their generation's voice be heard.  And what a softening there is when LGBT people brave rejection by family and friends and "come out", allowing the straight brothers and sisters to see us as we are and not as some ghoulish mock-ups of the incredibly fear-filled political machine.

Yes, there is much rejoicing today for how far we have come in four years.  At the same time, we can not sit contented with the outcome of November 6, 2012.  There are now nine states and Washington, D.C., with marriage equality.  But that leaves the majority of the country without it, and a federal law that still permits this discrimination to be legal.  A married gay couple from Massachusetts on vacation in Florida will have a terrible rude awakening if something goes wrong and one of them is in the hospital.  This should not be OK.  In Florida, it is still legal to fire people from their jobs, deny housing, or accomodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  And--yes--that does happen here.  We have judges who take away children from lesbian moms purely because they are lesbian moms, and refuse to grant second-parent adoptions to same-gender couples.  We have come a long way, but in places such as Florida and much of the southern United States, it still feels a little like receiving that postcard from your northern relatives with the message, "Wish you were here!"

Perhaps what is needed now is another Love-inspired revolution such as that of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s marches or the Freedom Riders bus presence in Alabama and Mississippi.  Perhaps it is time for our northern LGBT relatives to join hands with us here and help us remove these stumbling blocks in the way of justice for all in this Deep South part of our country.  We need you all to stay on the battlefield with us.

Mr. President, last night I was finally able to celebrate your victory in the way I wish I had been free enough in spirit to do so four years ago.  But I am still not completely free from the laws that bind the LGBT community.  Perhaps, God-willing in another four years, I will enjoy my full equality under the law of the land.  


Anonymous said...

This is a perfect ending to a great day. I still haven't found out if the voting has finished in Florida and it is in the President's column. I am amazed that we have made more progress with states allowing gay marriage, etc. Keep up the work in PFLAG.


Phoebe McFarlin said...

I was patient for a number of years.. but finally realised in addition to patience I needed to act. It was 30+ before the dream became a reality. I hope your dream does not take that long..