America Is Not a Democracy!
Yes, you read that right. America is not, was never meant to be and hopefully never will be a democracy. The United States of America is a constitutional republic. Now, the ultra conservatives and the radical religious right in this country don't like that name— it reminds them they can't do what they're trying to do. So they've taken to saying we live in a representative republic. This is true, but it's not the whole truth. And they're hoping you don't realize or remember it's not the whole truth. They're hoping you never think about it once you agree that yes, we elect representatives to make laws on our behalf. They're also hoping that you agree just as easily with their next "logical" statement that goes something like, "So when those representatives make the laws, they're representing what the majority wants and that's the way it should be." They don't want you to remember that those representatives are still bound by the Constitution of the United States. They don't want you to remember that the Constitution of the United States of America was not written to reflect and protect the beliefs of only the majority. They don't want you to remember that The US Constitution was written to protect the beliefs every American not only from the government but most importantly from the majority.
One of the many hats I wear is that of a mother of two sons. During the early years of my sons' lives, there were a lot of rules. You can't just tell a toddler to behave. They have no concept of what that means. You have to set down very specific rules: Don't stick things in electrical outlets. Don't run with scissors. Don't play with matches. Don't write on the walls. Maybe even "Don't write on the walls with markers, pens, pencils, or crayons." Of course, turn your back long enough and you'll find your toddler proudly standing beside a mural done in ketchup, toothpaste and lipstick because they weren't on the list.
Yet no matter what specific rules were in force at various times in my kids' lives, the goal has always remained the same: to teach respect for self and others by treating other people the way they want to be treated. That simply meant extending to others the same basic right that they wanted for themselves. The same basic right, in fact, that our constitution guarantees each of us: the right to live our life as we see fit according to the beliefs that we hold dear. More commonly known as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they gave birth to the newest nation to grace these shores. The Revolutionary War marked the beginning of America's entrance into puberty and those rebellious years we parents dread. The founding fathers had the wisdom to recognize that the American people, like any teenager, didn't fully understand that the more freedom they had, the greater their responsibility was to extend that same freedom to others. How could they? Like a teenager, they had never before been given that much freedom. You can't truly understand that which you do not experience. So, like any good parent of a teen, our founding fathers set down some very specific rules to teach respect of self and others. We know those rules as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Today, both my kids and American society have matured. The rules have changed and will continue to do so. With each change comes more freedom to choose between various courses of action. And still the goal remains the same: to teach respect of self and others. This increased freedom is the hallmark of maturity and to withhold that freedom is the earmark of tyranny.
This tyranny is evident right now in our society with the issue of equal rights for gays. Many supporters of equality for gays have questioned the wisdom of making GLBT rights such a prominent issue during a presidential election year, especially since most polls still show that fifty to sixty percent of Americans believe marriage should be one man and one woman. I say regardless of when we start to fight injustice, we've already started too late. If we wait too long, the roots of this tyranny will go deeper and not only will it be harder to uproot, but it will cause far more damage when we finally do pull it from the earth. Also, there's no better way to get this issue into the public eye than to do it now. But make no mistake, this is NOT an issue that is open for debate. Whether the majority of Americans approve of gay marriage or not is irrelevant because it is a matter of civil rights and NOT subject to voter approval or majority rule. And yet we hear President Bush and other lawmakers decrying the "activist judges" who they say have taken over our courts by "redefining traditional values" or overturning voter approved initiatives. And then Bush had the audacity to go on national television and ask the American voters to amend their constitution so that it would be legal to deny certain citizens rights.
It's downright scary when the President of the United States seems to lack even a basic understanding of Civics 101. (The alternative is even scarier: he knows exactly what he's doing and is intentionally attempting to deceive the American public, believing that they're stupid enough to not recognize his deception.) If we lived in a democracy where there are no limitations on majority rule, he'd have a legitimate complaint. But in a constitutional republic like the United States, the will of the majority cannot violate the constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of even one individual. If it does, it's the duty of the courts to ignore majority will and declare those laws or initiatives unconstitutional no matter how popular or traditional they may be! That's why we no longer have slavery, women can now vote and blacks are no longer jailed for marrying whites.
But far more disturbing to me than Bush's apparent ignorance of civics was the fact that his request marks the first time that the president of this nation has sought to use the US Constitution to deny civil rights rather than to protect them. This amendment, if passed, will gut the Constitution's guarantee of equality. If Bush can get an amendment passed that will discriminate against citizens based on who they love, he can get laws passed that discriminate against citizens based on who (or how) they worship. When the civil rights of one segment of society— not matter how small that segment may be— are denied, the civil rights of EVERY segment of society— no matter how large those segments may be— are endangered. His attack was not on just gays— his attack is on the very principles that are at the heart of this nation.
We all need to recognize the danger these radical right-wing activists— no, I refuse to allow them to make the word "activist" something negative. We all need to recognize the danger these radical right-wing terrorists pose. (Yes, they are terrorists since they use the same weapon as a terrorist: fear. And their goal is the same as a terrorist: to intimidate others into doing their will.) Yet despite all the lies and deception and stalling and back-pedaling this current administration has done (and is doing), despite their arrogance and callousness, despite the continuing erosion of our civil rights, the latest polls indicate only 44 percent of voters disapprove of the president's job performance.
WAKE UP, AMERICA!
The fight for gay rights is a fight for your rights! You need to realize that if you allow the government to deny equality to gays because we offend some national sense of morality, the government can deny equality to anyone because the government— rightly or wrongly— defines that morality through legislation. (It probably goes without saying I think the government has no right to legislate morality, but I just said it anyway.) We need to take back control of our government from special interest groups and religious fanatics and put it back in the hands of the people where it belongs. The question is how?
First, register to vote. Encourage everyone you know to register. You can protest until you're blue in the face, but if you can't cast a ballot that says "enough is enough", you're wasting your breath. And then vote! It does not good to register if you don't actually vote. If you're already registered, see about organizing a car poll or arranging a babysitter for someone who won't be able to vote unless someone takes them to the polls or watches their kids while they go. Also be aware that in some states, first time voters are required to present a photo ID: either a student ID or driver's license or state photo ID card. If you're not sure if your state is one of them, take a photo ID with you just in case.
Second, get involved! Become active in groups like the ACLU, GLSEN, NOW, People for the American Way, True Majority, MoveOn and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Your involvement can be as simple as a monetary donation, but they really need bodies to get things done. There are also thousands of grass roots organizations: you can find them in each city, county and state. My wife and I just signed on as potential litigants in a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania for not recognizing the validity of our marriage in Canada even though they recognize other marriages done in Canada. This past Wednesday, I spoke at an Ignite rally in our state capitol sponsored by SPARC (Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition) that focused on how harmful anti-gay legislation is to families. The mantle of freedom in this country is meant to cover everyone and the more people we have upholding that mantle, the less likely it is that anyone will remain outside its protection. It's like a tent. The center pole is the most important, but unless you have lots of poles all around the edges, you're not going to get a whole lot of people inside the tent if it starts to rain. The US Constitution is the center pole for this tent of freedom and everyone who is actively fighting for civil rights for all are the poles along the edges. The more people that are fighting, the easier the job of holding up those edges so that everyone can fit under the tent.
Third, educate yourself about the issues! I'm constantly surprised by the number of people— including gays— who still think that gay marriage is legal somewhere in the US. Don't read just one source for your information. Don't read all sources from just one side of the issue. If you're getting all your news from FOX and WorldNet, you're not getting the whole story. And don't read just US sources either. And please, please, please, don't use "soundbites" you hear on the news or radio as your source of information. Don't be fooled by the red, white and blue packaging many bills are wrapped in to trick us into thinking we're "baseball, hotdog, apple pie and mom" patriots if we support this bill. Look inside the "it's for the protection of the children" box that they try to use to hide their true intent. Really think about what's being proposed and discuss it with those who both support and oppose it. You'll come away with a much better understanding of the ripple effect all legislation has on society.
Let me give you an example of this "ripple effect". Just recently in Pennsylvania, HB 345— a bill designed to offer more assistance to those who adopted special needs children and that had wide bipartisan support— was put on the schedule for a vote on the first day back from recess, which was March 15, 2004. On the last day of the session, just hours before the official start of that recess, Rep. Jerry Birmelin (R-Wayne County), tacked 51 (yes, that is fifty one) anti-gay amendments onto this bill. His hope, I'm sure, is that no one would want to delay the passage of HB345 and therefore would simply skip debate on the amendments. Some of these amendments prohibited gays from adopting, but the wording was such that it would have also prohibited a widowed grandmother from adopting a young niece or adoption by single parents. Some prohibited the recognition of not only gay marriage, but civil unions, domestic partnerships and any other name that has ever been used to denote a committed relationship between two adults. The wording was such that not only gays would have lost their rights, but also any unmarried heterosexuals who were living together. One made it illegal to name a same-gender partner as the beneficiary of one's life insurance policy, but the wording was so broad that it could have applied to any same-gender beneficiary. (The reasoning behind this one, as far as I can figure out, is that it would be, on some level, an endorsement of same gender relationships.) One of the amendments prohibited the state from doing business with any company OR THEIR SUBCONTRACTORS that offered same-gender benefits. So if Acme did business with the state and one of their minor subcontractors had same-gender benefits, the state could not contract with Acme, even if Acme itself did not have same-gender benefits. In about a month, the GLBT community put together such a broad coalition of supporters that were AGAINST these amendments that Rep. Birmelin was forced to withdraw them from HB345, which passed unanimously later that night. But Rep. Birmelin has vowed that we haven't seen the last of those amendments.
Had these bills passed, the state would have had to stop doing business with some of the biggest corportations that are based in or have a major office in this state. Why should those businesses stay-- or any new ones come into the state— if they're on a statewide "blacklist" because either they or one of their subcontractors believe in equality for all? It may even have opened up the state to charges of unfair business practices, which would have cost a fortune to fight in court. Additionally, those gay professionals (and even some straight professionals) who are already in the state will jump at any opportunity they have to leave the state because of these sort of laws. Had they passed, they would have made Pennsylvania one of the most discriminatory states in the nation. Like it or not, the up and coming generation is much more liberal in their thinking and will not move here with such restrictive and backwards-thinking laws. The Pennsylvania economy, already the second slowest growing in the nation, would really suffer, which means all taxpayers will suffer. These are the ripples that most people don't stop to consider when supporting an initiative on the ballot, but they're the very things that we need to think about.
Finally, and I think most importantly, become more vocal and more visible. Gay or straight, the time for silence is long gone. This fight is for the continued existence of our nation as the "land of the free", not just about gay rights. Write letters to the editor protesting attempts to amend the constitution— both at the state and federal levels. Speak up when someone you know tells an off-color joke about any minority. Attend rallies in support of equality and freedom. Talk to family, friends and co-workers and educate them about the issues. Meet with elected officials from school board members up to US Senators. Demand accountability from our elected officials. For gays, the time for hiding is over. Come out, come out, wherever you are! Stand up, stand out and make a difference!
The American public has been complacent far too long. This has meant that we have, up until now, been fighting a defensive war. Now is the time to go on the offensive. Now is the time to act instead of react. We, as a nation, can't afford to wait for legislators like George Bush or Jerry Birmelin to introduce more hateful legislation. We still have in office politicians who voted against equal rights for blacks! Those who don't support equality for all people have no business being an elected representative of those people at any level of government. We've still got primaries going on in many states. We've got a national election in less than eight months. Let's use our power in the voting booth and get these radical-right, anti-equality bigots out of office. Let's use the power of the almighty dollar and send a message to the business community that we won't stand for any American being treated as a second class citizen and if they continue to support those who support legalized discrimination, we will take our business elsewhere. Contact your grocery store, your regular gas station, your phone company (if you have a choice in service providers), your cable company, your mechanic, your accountant. Everyone you do business with. If you opt to change suppliers/providers, make sure that you talk to the business owner or manager and tell him/her why you're leaving. They can't change their policy if they don't know it's making them lose clients.
The fight for equal rights has always engendered strong emotions, from the days of Revolutionary War to the Emancipation Proclamation to the women's suffrage movement to the civil rights movement in the 60's up to this present day struggle for equality. In the coming months, the anti-gay feelings in this country will likely intensify, especially if gays continue to win their battles in the courts. But gays will not be the only target of those anti-gay emotions. Anyone with a sibling, parent, child, friend or co-worker or simply someone who supports equal rights for gays will be fair game for their vitriolic diatribes. Don't let them get you down! If you are gay, hold your head high! Not because you're gay. You did nothing special to be gay. But because you have overcome the scorn and rejection of society— maybe even of family and friends— to find self-acceptance and pride in who you are. And you just happen to be gay too.
You know, the rainbow has traditionally marked the end of a long and wearisome journey and symbolized a promise of a better tomorrow. Since the radical right is accusing us of trying to change "traditional meanings", let's keep that traditional meaning. When you wear the rainbow, do it to remind yourself that this long and wearisome journey— our struggle for equality— will someday end and that a better tomorrow is already on the horizon. But more importantly, wear it as a token of the promise you make to yourself each day when you face the world and be true to who you are: "I promise be proud of who I am even if others hate me simply because of who I love." If you've never made that promise to yourself, make it today! You are worth it! You deserve it!
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