Gay Rights in 2015: Still a Sticky Wicket of a Game
Have you felt like a croquet ball lately? I have, as my dignity as a gay American is repeatedly pounded by the mallets of an agitated squad of rightwing politicians desperate to prevent me from passing through the hoops leading to the final stake—the stake of full equality. Every time the stake looks to be in sight, my pretty little orb (rainbow striped, naturally) is knocked off course again. It’s a sticky wicket of a game that has gone on far too long.
Way back when I was in college in the late 1960s, one of my favorite novels was Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. I loved the story about young people on the edge of society and I truly related to the title. It seemed such an apt appraisal of the position of all of us with marginalized social status—people of color, females, political dissenters and the group to which I privately knew I belonged: homosexuals.
I’d been aware of my sexual identity since I was in kindergarten (the year of my first boy crush). By the time I was 11 years old, I was anxious that so many upright citizens, including lawmakers, teachers, and clergy, were condemnatory of people like me. My feelings at that very young age washed back over me a couple weeks ago when I heard a song on oldies radio that had impacted me greatly in 1958, the year it was a hit for Jimmie Rodgers. As soon as it began to play, I remembered all the lyrics to “Secretly,” including the refrain:
Wish we didn’t have to meet secretly
Wish we didn’t have to kiss secretly
Wish we didn’t have to be afraid
To show the world that we’re in love
Till we have the right to meet openly
Till we have the right to kiss openly
We’ll just have to be content to be in love secretly.
Although to most kids the song was about clandestine hetero hookups, to me it was a queer anthem—my very first protest song. “Secretly” gave me the strength, at the ripe old age of 11, to get ticked off that society refused to accept me for who I was (and am). Whenever the radio played it, it gave me a brief jolt of hope that someday I could fall in love with another male—though most of the time I just figured I would grow old in a private place of loneliness and despair. The path between my favorite song in 1958 and my wedding day 56 years later was tortuously long.
It bothered me in the presidential campaign of 2008 when Hillary Clinton told reporters from gay media to be patient because our struggle had not been all that long yet. Fortunately, Clinton has changed her view since then and she has become a strong supporter of full LGBT equality.
My point is that we gay people have been much too patient. We are so used to getting through life without many of the rights other Americans take for granted that we celebrate every little victory with glee, as if we have finally achieved true equity and become full-fledged members of the land of the free. Each time a state or local court anywhere rules that same-sex marriage is a basic right, we light up our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts with millions of messages of back-slapping congratulations. But truth is, even as marriage equality has spread, queer people remain second class citizens, and self-righteous politicians continue to bully us at will.
We’ve all seen how negative the political campaigns against us have been these last few months. State legislatures have introduced “religious freedom” acts that permit businesses to turn us away. (After outrage from the public and business community, some of the laws were swatted or scaled back, as in Indiana.) Meanwhile, several states have attempted to make it illegal for their public officials to officiate or sign off on our marriages, even if the Supreme Court rules we have a Constitutional right to wed the person of our choice. What’s more, a few cities (most recently Springfield, Missouri) have actually repealed non-discrimination laws that had protected LGBT citizens in jobs and housing, and at least three states (Arkansas’ new law has drawn a lot of attention) have enacted or are considering legislation taking away the right of their municipalities to afford protections to gay people. How sick is that—to actually forbid towns from protecting an entire class of citizens!
For a while I was making a list of all the insidious anti-gay legislation introduced in state houses this year, but there have been so many bad bills I couldn’t keep up.
In a few short weeks we’ll know the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, but even if we win that one (please!), we’re still coming up short on inalienable rights—with the haters trying to cement discrimination into legal codes as many places as possible as fast as possible. Thus far, we’ve counted on the courts to mete out justice, but we’re getting little to no help from federal lawmakers.
Thus, the need remains as great as ever for a comprehensive federal law of protection for LGBT citizens. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island plan to introduce such a full equality bill into their respective Houses of Congress this year. Merkley, who has been chief Senate sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which still has not been passed into law after more than a decade of attempts), says his new legislation would ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, federal programs, credit and education. He also is considering the option of trying to amend the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act to include LGBT people (which could avoid a battle over religious exemptions that would likely come with any new legislation).
Meanwhile, the advocacy group Get Equal has come up with 10 tenets for an LGBT Bill of Rights, which it hopes Merkley and Cicilline will consider. In addition to job, housing, and public accommodations protections, the Get Equal bill includes fair and equal treatment within the justice system without police harassment or profiling, equal and humane treatment in immigration, equal access to family planning, flexibility in changing forms of identification in records, and safe schools with inclusive curricula. You can read the entire Bill of Rights at NoAsterisks.org.
(In a breaking development, Indiana Representative André Carson, along with more than 125 co-sponsors, has introduced a nonbinding “Equality for All Resolution,” which gives members of Congress the opportunity to take a strong stand against discrimination in the wake of the controversy over “religious freedom” acts. The resolution, which initially received the backing of no Republicans, is very moving in its defense of equal protection under the law. Read text.
Some legal observers are predicting that many of the concerns addressed in the LGBT Bill of Rights will begin to melt away when (if) the Supreme Court okays same-sex marriage. If a couple is legally married, how can a landlord, for example, deny them housing?
Well, you can be sure some of them will try. And what about all the LGBT people who are not married? Get Equal’s bill of rights specifically addresses the issues faced by LGBT singles and young people and racial minorities and the poor—including the “black gender-nonconforming teenagers who are profiled, arrested, and placed in solitary confinement” and the “undocumented queer immigrants who are sexually assaulted, humiliated, and abused while detained by the government.”
LGBT people come in all shapes, colors, sizes, identities, and marital statuses, and no matter what the Supreme Court says this June we’ll still be upside down in our very long quest for full civil rights. We cannot allow ourselves to rest until we’re up so long it looks like down.