I had the privilege of assisting the Obama campaign on Election Day by serving as a legal election observer in South Philadelphia.
Family after family of first-time voters streamed into my polling location. Many brought their children, who watched as their parents participated in the most essential process and privilege of being an American. As each family walked out, I made sure to tell the children that their parents were making history.
But the undeniable promise of election night’s political events was tempered by the reality of intolerance, an intolerance that appears to be replacing racial inequality and rooting itself in “Christian” values. In Arizona, Florida and Arkansas, constitutional amendments were passed to enshrine discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community by defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. In Arkansas, voters banned non-married gay couples from being adoptive or foster parents.
But in perhaps the most devastating blow to the equality that an Obama presidency promises, the citizens of California, and the money of the Mormon Church and the Knights of Columbus, eliminated the Constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry—a right that had been upheld by the state’s highest court, which incidentally is predominantly conservative.
Setting aside the injustice of putting a citizen’s constitutional right up for a popular vote, the underlying religious justification for this law is almost too difficult to wrap one’s mind around. If religious intolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people is allowed to exist, especially if justified by “faith,” we all suffer. And the disease of racial hate that has plagued America for centuries may simply shift to gay people.
All hope is not lost. My husband and I recently attended a Unitarian-Universalist Sunday service at The Fourth Universalist Society on the Upper West Side. We listened to their minister, Rosemary Bray McNatt, an African-American woman, say a prayer of thanks, out loud, for the Supreme Court of Connecticut’s marriage decision, saying that the Constitution of Connecticut forbids marriage discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. McNatt praised the court and thanked God for the justices’ understanding of the inherent value of love and the importance of a state’s protection of loving relationships, regardless of their gender makeup.
The journey toward real equality will require a sea change not unlike the election of an African-American president of the United States. I thank God that places like The Fourth Universalist Society exist and I pray that more people connect to a faith that embraces everyone, especially those who choose to love.
Anthony M. Brown served as research assistant to Nan Hunter, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Project at The ACLU, and he helped prepare the brief for Lawrence v. Texas. He can be reached at Brown@msclaw.net.
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