After Doing Everything Right for Marriage Equality

The anti-marriage-equality juggernaut moves on successfully every time it’s put to the people. These religious and political extremists know how to use an apparently democratic process because they’ve borrowed the business lobby’s issue-distorting techniques to win referenda.

Meanwhile, pro-equality activists work hard to fight a battle they didn’t choose and are likely to lose. Defending what appears to be a losing cause and knowing you still have to fight it is emotionally wearing.

As I watched the latest fight in Kansas, I was proud of pro-equality activists who were really on the side of the angels. They e-mailed, gathered, strategized, bonded, used every opportunity that came their way, rethought and regrouped again and again, and reflected on the right words and actions to make a difference.

Then they had to watch 70% of the voters agree that the love of LGBT people doesn’t deserve the recognition that straight, mostly-failing marriages do.

During the campaign they had to sit by and hear self-serving preachers and politicians who are suspiciously over-obsessed with gay sex tell LGBT people that they really deserve everlasting torment.

They had to watch incredulously while the prejudiced around them refused to listen to their carefully researched, reasoned, and fact-based arguments against the amendment.

They had to watch the media constantly make sure that the forces of bigotry were given a voice against them.

They had to watch political leaders they had supported, assuming they were their allies, cower in silence and complicity to save their own skins.

They had to overlook so many of the slurs, jokes, asides, references, and plain meanness that come at them daily to focus on issues that they felt were more crucial to the campaign.

They had to hear people talk about them as if they weren’t human, as if they were some abstract class of things, a mere set of objects in a debate, when they knew it was deeply personal and wanted to shout: “You’re talking about me, right here!”

They had to endure demeaning, vulgar slurs shamelessly bandied about publicly that compare them to pedophiles, molesters, and practitioners of bestiality.

They had to continuously look over their shoulders to protect themselves from harm while they bravely came further out of closets than before to stand against a clear assault on human rights.

They had to constantly remind themselves of their own worth, and the worth of those they love in the face of brazen and hateful public opinion.

They had to put aside they’re feelings because there was too much to do.

They had to choose to act in hope when in the back of their minds hopelessness seemed more realistic and could easily drown their spirits.

They had to work, and work, and work some more because there was so little time to pull the weight of their cause up the hill that was the right-wing’s timetable.

Now they’re tired heroes, needing rest before the next onslaught that’s being prepared this moment by right-wing addicts. But they have little time to reflect, feel, and cry.

So, for humanity’s sake, let’s take a reflective moment before the next storm gathers. Here are just a few of many thoughts:

The success of these marriage amendments is not a good measure of the success of LGBT equality. Thrust upon us, we’ve come to think of the amendment fights as if they represent a line in the sand. The right-wing scared the country into believing so, and even one or two LGBT national organizations have acted as if that were so.

In the midst of these losses, there’s been real progress. While Ohio voted for a mean version of the amendment, Cincinnati reversed a previously voter-approved city charter prohibition to grant anti-discrimination protection. Other locations around the country, even in red states, added sexual orientation to protected status. In Kansas, Topeka had just turned back a referendum promoting discrimination.

Without waiting, we need to promote similar anti-discrimination ordinances, which are easier to champion and crucial. LGBT people should be protected from getting fired for their sexual orientation and guaranteed non-discrimination in public accommodations, education, and government.

No matter how the right-wing has honed its arguments against these more basic initiatives, it’s hard for them to argue that someone should be fired for their sexual orientation or that our schools shouldn’t be safe for all children.

We cannot count on either of the two political parties for support. The Log Cabin Republicans and the Stonewall Democrats can continue to fight, but to both parties LGBT people are expendable. They want our votes, but they don’t believe we are significant or powerful enough to demand anything in return. And we’ve often acted as if we’ll take that kind of treatment.

It’s up to LGBT people and their real allies to look significant enough to deny support to, and threaten to work against, fair-weather and big-talking political friends. We must stop looking like pitiful pets waiting for scraps to drop from the table and just thankful that our masters occasionally smile down upon us.

The argument against right-wing religious extremists must be taken up within the religious communities, not by those outside them. The radical religious right loves to portray their battles as fights between believers and the godless.

What right-wing religion has really been doing successfully is defining these religious traditions to exclude their liberal voices. Liberal religious believers ought to be angry about that fact alone, angry enough to be the ones who fight back.

We can reframe this debate. Religious arguments must be redefined as fights within religious communities not fights between the religious and the secular. Liberal ministers, priests, rabbis, and other believers need to take over this debate as if their faith depended upon it. It does.

Finally, historian Howard Zinn reminds us: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.”