Last edited: February 06, 2005

‘Gay Independence Day’

KERA 90.1 (Dallas), July 22, 2003

By Stephen Whitley, KERA 90.1 commentator

DALLAS, TX—It is hard to describe my reaction the morning I heard the Supreme Court decision in “Lawrence v. Texas.” “Finally,” I thought, “Validation that my sexual preference should not be illegal.” It’s difficult to explain to a person who is straight, white and middle-class, how it feels to constantly feel like a second-class citizen simply because of a biological imperative that makes me attracted to men, rather than women.

For years, I had felt as if I were somehow flawed, not whole. I, like most other gay people, had endured taunts and ridicule, sometimes feared for my safety, always felt like I was on the outside. On that day, which some people are calling Gay Independence Day, I didn’t feel that way.

It’s hard not to compare the gay rights struggle with the civil rights struggle, although many African Americans are disinclined to see the similarities. Gay people, for the most part, have historically been allowed to vote. Gay people have been allowed to eat in restaurants, and gay people have been able to ride buses without being forced to sit at the back. But while discrimination against gay people may be better hidden, it isn’t any less real. We still have trouble adopting or winning custody of our children. In many states, a person can still be fired just for being gay. Since 1993’s compromise “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” 9,000 gays have been discharged from the armed forces. And more importantly, gay people don’t have the right to marry. This last point is a real sticking point for me. Convicted felons and even child molesters are allowed to marry, but law-abiding gay people are not. My brother lived with a woman for six years without marrying her, but at the end of that time she had more rights to half of his estate than my boyfriend would to mine if we were together twenty. While the Lawrence decision was an important first step, it is just a starting point. We still have a long way to go before we enjoy full equality.

After the decision was announced, almost immediately the religious right cried out that the moral fabric of our country was crumbling. Right-wing Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his bitter dissent—which he took the grandstanding opportunity to read aloud in court—that the “Lawrence” decision would open the door to legalized bestiality, bigamy, prostitution, and incest. Scalia predicted that the court’s decision would cause “a massive disruption of the current social order.” Other than the obvious question as to why members of the Republican Party are so concerned with bestiality, my question to Justice Scalia would be, “Didn’t opponents of the civil rights bills in the 1960’s say the same thing, that giving Blacks equal rights would forever disrupt the social order in the South and the country at large?” Maybe Trent Lott was right; and maybe ketchup is a vegetable, but most Americans don’t think so. There will always be a segment of society who hate and fear the other, and wish to make America just as it was in the 1950’s, when Blacks knew their place and “gay” meant happy.

Luckily, most Americans don’t want to go back to those days. The normally-conservative Dallas Morning News—in a surprising and brave move—is now going to accept announcements for gay couples’ commitment ceremonies. In a Newsweek live poll on the Monday after the decision, 55% of respondents said they believed gay marriage should be legal throughout the U.S. 16% said they believed in gay rights but not marriage, and only 29% said they thought homosexuality was immoral. We are nearing the Promised Land where our right to pursue happiness through marriage will be realized, and we will get there—someday.

  • Stephen Whitley is a writer in Dallas. If you have opinions or rebuttals to this commentary, call the KERA 90.1 Listener Comment Line at (214) 740-9338.

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