DC leads a just cause

Jeff Malet

It’s official. Let the weddings begin.

As of today, March 9, gay men and women could get married in the District of Columbia, and many of them probably did.

Officially, same sex marriage was legalized in the district on March 3, when same-sex couples could get a marriage license in district court and many, many of them did, from the District of Columbia and elsewhere, states where same sex marriage is not legal, the number of which still constitute a large majority in the United States.

Still, the issue of gay marriage passed a gauntlet in the District of Columbia that seemed insurmountable at one time in a jurisdiction where Congress, which had veto rights over the District budget, routinely insisted that anti-sodomy laws remain in place.

That might seem a thing of the past, but the climate for legalization of gay marriage and gay rights and discrimination is still a stormy one. For all the celebration and sighs of relief and it’s-about-time commentary that erupts whenever a jurisdiction legalizes same-sex marriage or equivalent rights, there’s always an event, a fight, a comment, a slur, a legal battle or maneuvering that reveals just how far gays have yet to go to achieve rights that to them and to most reasonable people seem just.

To many religious organizations and institutions, same-sex marriage threatens their beliefs and threatens the family, an ill-defined word in these contemporary times where divorce among straight people is alarmingly high. And there is always the religious fringe whose hatred of gay Americans, or gay people in general, appears to know no bounds.
That’s why, for instance, the Supreme Court is set to deliver a free speech verdict, no less, on the fate of rabid (there’s no other word for their cruel use of speech) anti-gay protesters who routinely show up at military funerals with hate-filled signs like “God Hates Your Tears” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” (among milder examples). The groups, members of Kansas’ Westboro Baptist Church, believe that 9/11 and U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God’s punishment on America for tolerating gays in America. Needless to say, they are not fond of same-sex marriage, either.

A family of one dead soldier who sued the protesters and initially won a $5 million verdict is appealing a U.S. district appeals court decision that overturned the verdict on First Amendment grounds, saying that the signs had “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” which was protected.

Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II, who had toned down his ultra-right rhetoric during the recent election campaign, has written letters to Virginia higher education officials asking them to back off policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, causing a furor among students on public university campuses.

And the unworkable and painful “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about gays in the military remains in place, even though some of the highest ranking officers in the military have spoken out against it.

All of these landmark efforts on same-sex marriage, legal rights and recognition are essentially about making gays and lesbians a part of mainstream America, a notion that absolutely terrifies anti-gay forces. If gay people have the same visible rights and place as other members of the community, it becomes impossible to marginalize them with slurs, rhetoric, oppression, discrimination and open hateful acts. If gay men and women come into the community light in terms of equal rights and responsibilities, it forces bigots to slink into the dark, where they belong.

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