Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Pride and Prejudice

Rejoice, then regroup. (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

As many as a million people descended upon San Francisco over the weekend to celebrate gay pride. They came from near and far, transforming the city’s Castro district– arguably the gayest neighborhood on the planet– into a jubilant open-air party that positively throbbed with erotic energy day and night. Sunday’s Pride Parade was the jewel in the crown of the weekend’s festivities, drawing a massive crowd of locals and visitors as well as city and regional officials enthusiastically showing their support for LGBT rights.

There was much high-minded talk of “progress” in the air. President Barack Obama was lauded both for finally consigning ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the longtime discriminatory ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in America’s armed forces, to the ash heap of history where it belongs, and also for his recent endorsement of same-sex marriage. The fact that two Republican-appointed federal judges have recently declared the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, to be unconstitutional and that President Obama has called for a repeal of DOMA was also hailed as proof positive of progress toward LGBT equality.

To be sure, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a huge step forward. So too was the president’s belated embrace of marriage equality. Historically, once an American president comes around on a civil rights issue, the people aren’t far behind. But let us not forget that Obama’s endorsement confers no legal rights or benefits to the vast majority of LGBT Americans who are still legally barred from marrying who they love. In San Francisco, perhaps the gayest city on earth, gays are banned from marrying by a constitutional amendment approved by a majority of California voters which stripped them of the marriage rights they once enjoyed.

Voters in 31 states, most recently North Carolina, have similarly enshrined legalized discrimination in their constitutions. And while Maryland and Washington state have both legalized same-sex marriage this year via progressive legislation, ballot challenges in both states threaten to undo what liberal lawmakers and governors have boldly done. Such is the absurdity of leaving civil rights issues up to a popular vote.

Not only can LGBT Americans not marry in almost all states (currently only six states and Washington, D.C. allow such marriages), four states incredibly still have laws on the books criminalizing homosexual sex. Despite the Supreme Court’s landmark Lawrence v. Texas ruling, which struck down sodomy laws on privacy grounds in 2003, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas specifically ban anal sex between men. In Kansas, sodomy is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. In Montana, gay sex is technically a felony, with Republican lawmakers blocking an attempt to decriminalize it.

Additionally, LGBT workers in 29 states can be still be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Republicans argue that legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect LGBT Americans from workplace discrimination, is not necessary; some even deny that such discrimination even exists. This is a ludicrous assertion; according to the Center for American Progress, a progressive advocacy group, 42 percent of gay individuals report having experienced some form of employment discrimination in their lives, with fully 90 percent of transgender workers claiming they’ve faced workplace harassment, mistreatment or discrimination. Shockingly, some Republican lawmakers openly assert their belief that such discrimination should be perfectly legal. In Missouri, gun owners are protected by law from employment discrimination. Gays are not.

Such a legislative climate reflects an America in which LGBT people are still widely viewed as second-class citizens. Homophobic hate crimes have been on the rise throughout the nation; 2011 saw the highest number of anti-gay murders ever recorded. Evangelical churches across the country spew hatred and bigotry from their pulpits; pastors have recently called on the government to kill gays in the name of God and to imprison them in concentration camps— a budding child preacher even sang “ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven” to raucous applause from congregants at his Indiana church.

This is the sobering political and cultural landscape against which any “progress” must be measured. Yes, LGBT Americans are marching inexorably towards what seems like an eventual realization of the our nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all. But there’s still a long way to go, and the road to equality is fraught with peril and setbacks. After all the Pride Parade floats are parked away, all the costumes are mothballed until next year, all the glitter is swept up from San Francisco’s streets and all the visitors have gone home, so much work still remains to be done.

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