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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Pushing for gay rights

Published: November 14, 2008
Section: Opinions

While election night was a sweeping victory for Democrats and liberals on the whole, it was an utterly abysmal one for advocates of gay rights. Ballot measures passed in California, Arizona and Florida banning gay marriage (Florida and Arizona banned equivalent partnerships as well) and Arkansas passed a measure that will have the effect of preventing homosexuals from adopting children. The culture war, it seems, has shifted away from abortion and towards a crushing defeat of LGBTQ advocates. Yet, even in this moment, there are some gleaming bright spots and opportunities for growth and progress.

In pursuit of these bans on gay marriage, supporters have bended over backwards to give the impression that they are not “anti-gay,” but “pro-family.” In doing so, any of the staunchest advocates of gay marriage bans rhetorically moderated their position on civil unions or the granting of domestic partnership rights such as hospital visitations and tax benefits to LGBTQ couples.

Thus, we had Former Vice Presidential Nominee and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin–who in the past had, according to New York Times profile (“An Outside Who Charms” Aug 29, 2008), “raised the possibility of amending the state constitution” so that a ban on health benefits to same-sex partners could be passed—stating in the Vice Presidential debate that “no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.” With Sarah Palin hailed by many as the savior of the Republican Party for 2012, it is important to acknowledge the dramatic shift of rhetoric over granting equal benefits.

Even the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, one of the biggest advocates for Proposition 8 has made painstaking efforts to clarify their stance on Civil Unions. Immediately after the passing of Proposition 8, the Church issued a statement that emphasized that it does not object to domestic partnership or civil union legislation and moreover and throughout the campaign stated that “The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these so not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches.”

Thus, even as the electorate overwhelmingly opposed gay marriage, those bastions of conservatism, both in the Republican Party and without, have laid the groundwork for rights advancing partnerships. Of course, one could take a cynical view of this and say that these statements were merely issued for political benefits.

However, in recent weeks, at least some equal rights organizations have taken these words at face value. EqualityUtah, a LGBTQ rights advocacy organization, has taken to petitioning the LDS church asking it to support five pieces of legislation currently being proposed in Utah all narrowly tailored to fit in line with what the Church has stated it could tolerate. According to the New York Times, “The proposed laws would also expand protections for same-sex couples in health care and hospitalization decisions, housing and employment, and in inheritance issues in probate court (“Gay Leaders in Utah Plan 5-Bill Attack in Legislature,” Nov. 10, 2008).

The Church has yet to issue a response to this petition, but regardless, this is an interesting and potentially fruitful avenue of social change. On a broader basis, advocates should begin calling out those who have issued tacit support of Civil Unions in order to build coalition support for positive change on a state-by-state basis.

Though LGBTQ advocates may want to continue to push for full out marriage rights, it seems that this avenue of reaching a consensus around civil unions may be more fruitful.

A much more potent appeal to an individual sense of justice can be made when the religious casing around the term marriage is stripped away and a basic liberties appeal is extended. After all, if taken at their word, then the position of the Mormon Church or arch-conservatives such as Sarah Palin truly do not disagree with Barack Obama or Joe Biden.

If these conservative leaders and organizations step up and live up to their words, then the cause of equality will be advanced, and if they fail to do so, then they will be revealed as hypocrites and frauds who truly are “anti-gay.”

If the defeat of gay marriage can be used as a bridge to build broader support for domestic partnership rights and equal legal rights, then even from its ashes the cause of equality will advance further than previously imaginable.