Rosendall: Where do we go from here?
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Gay marriage setback in Arizona (Bay Windows) 10/16/03

GLAA's Agenda: 2004 07/07/04

Where do we go from here?

by Richard J. Rosendall

First published by Bay Windows on December 2, 2004 *

Pull yourself together, we have work to do. Despite the recent upheaval at the Human Rights Campaign and the drubbing that same-sex marriage received at the polls in November, we need to prepare for new battles. Here are some suggestions for charting the course ahead.

First, protect our hard-won gains. Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and others want to undo four decades of court victories for privacy rights, from contraception to abortion to sodomy. The public policy question is not how one views those things morally, but whether the state should be able to intervene. While our allies in the Senate are defending our privacy rights against theocratic judicial nominees, talk to your family and friends, write a letter to the editor. And remember our allies the next time they run.

Pull out all stops to defend the marriage equality beachhead in Massachusetts. The Supreme Court's decision not to hear a challenge to Goodridge is a second bit of good news on top of the results in the elections for the Massachusetts Statehouse. The Bay State's experiment can be a powerful example, as thousands of same-sex couples embrace a legal commitment in a state with the lowest divorce rate in the country. So save some year-end money for MassEquality.

Take the long view. The passage of all 11 anti-gay state amendments is not a sign that we should give up, but a reminder that our fight for equal marriage rights will take a long time. Other priorities will have their adherents, such as anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, which is fine. The fight against military discrimination that weakens our national defense cannot be set aside. But the fight for gay families is fundamental, and must continue. The focus in each state will differ depending on the situation. In some states, civil unions are more feasible. In others, legal challenges to the denial of couples' contracting rights are needed. In deepest red state territory, basic organizing is still needed. Work your support networks. Statewide groups can consult one another via the Equality Federation. Litigants can consult Lambda Legal, ACLU, and GLAD.

Discourage "Lone Ranger" lawsuits. An ill-advised case in Arizona, in which plaintiffs (a Phoenix gay couple denied a marriage license) refused to take advice from gay legal experts, is a cautionary tale for other couples whose hearts are ruling their heads. It makes little sense to vent your outrage at injustice through a lawyer if the results are likely to be even worse. (In the Phoenix case, the Arizona Court of Appeals found that there is no right to marry a same-sex partner under the state or federal constitution.) Every case is not a good test case, and bad rulings only erect new barriers. Urge your friends to take a strategic view and to cooperate rather than charging off on their own. One useful thing we can all do is tell our stories.

Learn to criticize without adopting a scornful tone. Insults do not substitute for evidence and argument, whether we are admonishing our allies or trying to persuade new voters. It is hard to remain civil when our passions are involved, but injecting poison into our discussions is a recipe for defeat. We can only win new supporters by reaching out to people who do not already agree with us. This requires addressing their perspectives and connecting with them as human beings.

Stop the partisan double standards. After the election, Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Cheryl Jacques renewed her snub of moderate Republican Senator Arlen Specter for his procedural vote to send the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Senate floor, even though he publicly stated that he would vote against it on the substance. Yet HRC did not similarly reject Democrat John Kerry, who supports putting discrimination into the Massachusetts constitution. This blatant double standard will not make HRC's job any easier in the 109th Congress. With Jacques out, HRC can improve its credibility as a fair-minded advocate by choosing a more savvy and less partisan new leader.

Drop the cheap slams against black-tie dinners. We will need a lot more fundraisers before we are done. If you know a better way to raise money, do it. If you know a more deserving organization, support it.

Stand up for your own values. Given the harm that the radical right is doing in the name of faith, flag, and family, it is inexcusable that we have let them claim the rhetorical high ground on these issues for so long. If you want to see how a winning Democrat talks about these issues, read Barack Obama. But even he needs to get some letters from gay families.

Setbacks notwithstanding, the tide of history remains with us, because our cause is just and our country is America. But we must keep our oars in the water.

* This essay was also published in The Washington Blade, Southern Voice,
Houston Voice, and Philadelphia Gay News.

Copyright 2004 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.