Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Last Acceptable Bigotry

People from all parts of the political spectrum joined in lauding the election of our first African-American president this week. But casting a pall over our celebration is America's ongoing blind-spot with regards to civil rights.

Three states--California, Arizona, and Florida--passed anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives on Tuesday. Arkansas went one step further, banning unmarried couples (which would, of course, include committed gay couples) from becoming adoptive or foster parents.

Markos Moulitsas, an important voice for progressives (though sometimes not as important as he thinks he is), argues that this is "the flashpoint in the culture wars." But this is precisely the wrong way to frame the issue. Permitting gay couples the right to marry does not wage a culture war: it does not threaten to change, in any way, the lives of those who have no desire to participate in a gay marriage. Protection of gay marriage would not mean that one's local priest would have to perform a wedding mass for a gay couple. Instead, it simply means that gay Americans would enjoy the same rights as all other Americans.

Particularly disconcerting is the tension between the African-American and gay communities. (We saw that locally when Rev. Shuttlesworth took part in the "Equal Rights Not Special Rights" nonsense.) Several reports suggest that California's Proposition 8 passed largely due to its support among African Americans. (See this column, though, for a contrary viewpoint.) I've never understood why such a high propotion of African Americans harbor anti-gay sentiments.

So while we should celebrate how far we've come, we must not lose sight of how much farther we still must travel if we are to uphold the rights and dignity of all Americans.

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