Gay rights are the most important civil rights issue of our time. Just as young people in the 1960s had a fight to end racial discrimination, young people today will have to work to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.
As elections took place this week, that battle had both a major defeat and two important wins across the country.
In Maine, voters vetoed “Question 1,” which effectively squashed a law that allowed gay marriage in the state. The law had originally passed in May 2009 and it was set to take effect in September, but enough signatures were collected to have it placed on the ballot in November.
Even with a record voter turnout, the law was overturned by a small margin; it was no doubt a sizeable defeat for the gay community and civil rights as a whole.
In Washington, Referendum 71, often referred to as the “everything but marriage” law, was passed by a slim margin and will greatly expand the rights of gay and lesbian couples. They will be able to have many of the same rights as married couples, including rights to their partner’s insurance benefits and the ability to sign certain legal documents.
In Kalamazoo, Mich., an ordinance was passed that gives gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals anti-discrimination protection in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation.
While these victories may seem small, they are certainly a step in the right direction, especially for a nation that doesn’t recognize any form of same-sex marriage or civil unions. The same goes in the state of Michigan; our constitution bans performing or recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions, and in 2008, banned domestic partner benefits such as health insurance.
America takes pride in being a nation that has overcome a history of prejudice. A milestone came this past election, when two democratic nominees for president were a woman and a black man. Despite the progress we have made as a country, we obviously still have a long way to go. Handing out “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” are not enough.
Although both of these terms are close to what marriage offers heterosexual couples, they are not equal. What we need to strive for in this country, and what we have always strived for, is just that — equality.
As long as people are willing to fight for it and vote for it, equal rights for gay couples can be achieved. Although there may have been setbacks, we need not give up hope.