Why not focus on attainable goals

Change comes incrementally. Sudden change is generally accompanied by violence. Why have these truths been seemingly forgotten by the gay rights movement, personified by its largest organization, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)?

For nearly a year the public has been bombarded with rhetoric about same-sex marriage. Last June, the courts in Ontario ruled that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. Immediately, liberals and conservatives in this country began sparring over the subject, long before the state Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled in November that their state had to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Since then the debate over gay marriage has drowned out discussion over other gay-rights initiatives.

But should gay marriage really be a higher priority than, say, employment non-discrimination? Every action alert sent out in recent months to HRC members has had to do with the issue of marriage. Every recent request for donations has cited the need to fight “opponents of civil marriage” for gay Americans. Other initiatives are rarely mentioned now. Legalization of same-sex marriage has seemingly become a single-minded obsession in the gay-rights community.

Successful businesspeople know that a good goal has two qualities: It should be a stretch to achieve, but it also needs to be attainable. Impossible dreams, or even improbable ones, do not make good goals. Let’s look at the prospects for gay marriage in this country.

• Gay marriage has begun to happen in Massachusetts, starting May 17.

• Gov. Mitt Romney recently decided that only same-sex couples that are Massachusetts residents will be eligible, under a 1913 state law prohibiting marriages for out-of-state residents that will not be recognized in their home state.

• In spite of the hoopla surrounding civil marriages performed for gay couples in San Francisco and other places, those marriages are almost certain to be nullified by the courts in their respective states.

We here in Indiana are not going to be affected by the arrival of gay marriage in Massachusetts. So, the local chapter of HRC focusing its attention on lobbying our congressional representatives about civil marriage for same-sex couples? It’s because alarmed conservatives in Congress have proposed a Federal Marriage Amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Regardless of one’s opinion about FMA, it’s clear to most observers that it is not going to pass Congress this term. It is improbable that the supporters of FMA will be able to muster the two-thirds majorities needed in both houses to send it to the states for ratification. I agree that this assumption cannot be taken for granted, and the gay-rights community has an obligation to fight FMA.

My disagreement with HRC is in the inordinate amount of their resources that they are devoting to this single issue. There are numerous other initiatives that are more attainable, and which would have a profound and immediate impact upon the gay community here in Indiana.

Let’s look at just one. It is still legal in 36 states to fire someone for being gay. Many are terrified to put a picture of their significant other on their desks. These individuals fear being fired, passed up for promotion or given a smaller raise because of their sexual orientation. It’s a sad state of affairs that many live in fear for their jobs because of who they are; legalizing same-sex marriage won’t change that. What would change it is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

ENDA has been proposed in Congress every session since 1994. It currently has 179 co-sponsors in the House, and 44 in the Senate. Polls have shown for years that a majority of Americans support ENDA. A Gallup poll in May 2003 showed nearly nine in 10 adults support protecting gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination. ENDA has bipartisan support, so there’s no reason it can’t pass.

Locally, the gay-rights community should lobby the City-County Council for an ordinance barring discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Such a measure has a good chance of passing.ENDA is an attainable goal that will have an immediate beneficial impact. A local non-discrimination ordinance covering sexual orientation is also attainable, and sends a message about tolerance in this community. These initiatives shouldn’t play second fiddle to the dream of attaining civil marriage for same-sex couples.

Obtaining civil marriage for same-sex couples is a noble dream. We should all be allowed to marry whomever we love, regardless of their gender. There’s no doubt that civil marriage is the only way to give same-sex couples all of the federal and state benefits that are given to heterosexual married couples. My point is that in Indiana and most other states, it’s not going to happen any time soon. Should we stop pushing for civil marriage? Absolutely not. But we shouldn’t let improbable dreams take our focus away from attainable goals that would make a difference now. Change comes incrementally.


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