Monday, March 22, 2010

Gay Rights are Civil Rights

By Steve Charing

We have just commemorated the 45th anniversary of the three Selma (Alabama) marches. They took place in an effort to gain voting rights for black citizens. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was among several prominent civil rights leaders to help organize the marches.

The first of these events occurred on March 7, 1965 and resulted in "Bloody Sunday" when 600 civil rights marchers were attacked by local and state police using billy clubs and tear gas. The third march began on March 21 and lasted 5 days along the 54-mile route to Montgomery.

In retrospect, these marches provided the emotional and political peak of the civil rights movement. The marchers endured the violence to make a statement and opened the country's eyes.

At one time the U.S. Constitution regarded black people as three-fifths of a complete person—the core argument (along with Scripture) to justify slavery, segregation, disenfranchisement and discrimination. While the Constitution had been amended to eradicate that dehumanizing mistake and subsequent federal civil rights laws have been passed, the struggles for African-Americans continue.

It is sad, however, that 45 years later, we find many African-Americans averse to recognizing the struggle by LGBT Americans for equal treatment as a quest for civil rights. Indeed, there are differences. For one thing, lgbt folks do not constitute a race as African-Americans do. We are a swath of the general population—perhaps 5 percent—that covers all races, all religions, all ethnic origins, all socio-economic backgrounds, all political beliefs, and so on.

But LGBT folks can be fired from their jobs for simply being who they are in 38 of our states. Gays and lesbians cannot serve openly in our Armed Forces, yet we have been willing to die for our country. Gays and lesbians cannot legally marry except in 5 states and the District of Columbia. Moreover, the federal government by dint of the loathsome Defense of Marriage Act does not recognize in any fashion the partnership of same-sex couples. And we cannot walk the streets of any place other than a "gay ghetto" hand-in-hand without the risk of a baseball bat being smacked against the back of our head.

If there is any group that is still lacking civil rights, we are it.

Nonetheless, many African-Americans do not see it that way. Delegate Emmett Burns who unsuccessfully attempted to get a bill passed during this year's legislative session to preempt Attorney General Gansler's opinion that allows Maryland to recognize same-sex marriages from outside the state is a good example. During the public hearing for the defeated bill Burns said, "I would not have been able to sit here as a member of the General Assembly during segregation based on the color of my skin. But gays and lesbians could…I cannot hide my color…To say the two are on equal par is anathema to me."

That's the thinking: blacks cannot hide their color but gays can hide. The question begs, why should we have to? In a nation whose Declaration of Independence explicitly says all men are created equal, why then do we need to hide who we are just to have a seat at the table? The mere suggestion of this by Burns and others demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of what civil rights mean.

Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and Julian Bond, just to name three venerated African-American civil rights leaders, have far more stature in the civil rights movement than Emmett Burns. They know the true meaning of civil rights, and they had no problem connecting the struggle for lgbt rights as civil rights. Ms. King spoke for her husband when she said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

John Lewis, who fought alongside Dr. King during the black civil rights battles said, "I've heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry."

And Julian Bond said, "That's why when I am asked, 'Are gay rights civil rights?' my answer is always, 'Of course they are.'"

Emmett Burns dismisses the words of these civil rights icons by snapping "they don't speak for me." Those other African-Americans who refuse to accept our quest for equality as a civil rights movement may have forgotten that gays and lesbians stood shoulder-to-shoulder with blacks in marches and in efforts to register black voters so that they would not be disenfranchised. They risked their lives for the cause of civil rights.

“We had marched with Martin Luther King, seven of us from the Mattachine Society of Washington in 1963," said gay pioneer Jack Nichols. "And from that time on, we’d always had our own dream about a march of similar proportions.”

According to Equality Forum, openly gay Bayard Rustin was the lead organizer of the March on Washington in August 1963. In October 1963, openly gay James Baldwin and Dick Gregory with his wife were the first nationally prominent blacks to protest for voters rights in Selma.

We may or may not need marches to demonstrate that we're in a civil rights struggle. To succeed, however, we must seek the acknowledgement by those who have been through the same battles. We need them at our side now. Equality is civil rights—no matter the color, no matter what.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Will Our Wedding Bells Ever Ring in Maryland?

As we witness the joy of numerous gay and lesbian couples getting married in nearby Washington, D.C., we should congratulate our brothers and sisters for this monumental achievement. May their marriages be filled with all the love and commitment that their unions represent.

Another high note was Attorney General Doug Gansler's opinion last month that stated Maryland should recognize the marriages of same-sex couples that are legal in other jurisdictions. The timing was perfect: Maryland's recognition of those marriages outside the Free State came one week before the day the D.C. same-sex marriage licenses could be obtained.

This opinion was eagerly anticipated since last May. We expected a favorable outcome despite pressure from opponents because of Maryland's long-standing tradition of recognizing marriages from out-of-state that would otherwise not be valid here.

Accordingly, myself and my husband Bob (don't need to say "partner" anymore) had wed in Massachusetts last summer. Friends Stefan Freed and Sean McGovern married in Connecticut. Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) and wife Deb did so in California. And Morgan Sheets and Rae Meneses tied the knot in Vermont.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, as you probably know, is the executive director of Equality Maryland and is spearheading the effort to bring marriage equality to Maryland.

Scores of other Maryland couples have married in those states as well as in Canada, South Africa and countries in Europe that allow same-sex marriage with the hope that they would be recognized by the state government here. And now we can expect hundreds, if not thousands of couples to make the short trip to D.C. to follow suit.

In doing so, they will spend a boatload of dollars for wedding-related expenses, such as receptions, flowers, music, hotel rooms, restaurants, and gifts that could have been spent here to lift the ailing economy. Washington, D.C. will have reaped the rewards instead. The nonpartisan Williams Institute of UCLA had calculated that same-sex marriage in Maryland would result in over a $2 million annual boost to the economy.

Now that Gansler's opinion has been released, the logical question is, will marriages involving same-sex couples ever take place in Maryland, and if so, when?

Although Maryland is a "blue" state with a 2 to 1 Democratic identity and has huge majorities in both legislative chambers with a Democratic governor, it tends to be somewhat conservative on social issues. Aaron C. Davis opined in the Washington Post that the conservative Democrats are impeding progress on same-sex marriage here.

"Democrats are hesitant to embrace many progressive social policies, lest they upset the state's many Catholics, evangelicals and others with deep religious convictions," he wrote.

We have found that resistance among Democratic legislators who are either ministers themselves or who have strong ties to the black churches in and around Baltimore City and Prince George's county. Senator Anthony C. Muse from Prince George's, for example, consistently stands in the way of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act from moving out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to the floor for a debate and a vote. He applied the same headlock to a bill that would grant transgendered individuals the same protections from discrimination that other citizens enjoy.

Norman R. Stone, Jr., a conservative Democrat from Baltimore County is another nemesis to the lgbt community. He is a sponsor of the Senate bill that would do what Del. Emmet Burns' bill failed to accomplish in the House and that is to prevent Maryland from recognizing those same-sex marriages that Gansler's opinion would allow.

But the real roadblock is perennial Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert). He mentioned retirement not that long ago, but the power he commands is too gratifying to simply hand over to a lesser being.

Miller constructs the committees. He eschews controversial issues on the Senate floor. He hates filibusters, and he doesn't want to do anything that would erode the Democratic majority in the Senate. So, if Mike Miller does not want same-sex marriage to progress, it won't, regardless of the occupant in the Governor's Mansion.

On the day that Gansler issued his opinion, Miller reassured the press that "gay marriage" is not legal in Maryland, and that will not change "anytime soon."

"This has to stop," says lgbt activist Dr. Dana Beyer." If our state is going to prosper, the only way to change that leadership is to elect real progressives with the courage to inspire and mobilize that progressive majority to get the job done. A progressive legislature will elect progressive leadership."

Dr. Beyer is right on the money. We have to actively try to run and support gay or gay-friendly candidates in Democratic districts where there are conservative incumbents. Equality Maryland is amassing a sizable PAC. I hope they direct those funds to unseat the Muses and the Stones of the legislature. The PAC money ought to help gay-friendly Democratic candidates gain winnable seats, such as in District 9A (Western Howard County), which are currently occupied by two anti-gay Republicans.

Moreover, Equality Maryland needs to maintain an ongoing official dialogue with the Governor and legislative leaders. Election year is all the more reason to keep the pressure on because as soon as the 2010 General Assembly is completed, these politicians will not only be trolling for votes but donations as well. Yes, we do have leverage.

We must also keep our LGBT youth and allies engaged and not discouraged. They will be replacing the older, more conservative voters and the key to eventual victory.

And Equality Maryland should continue its excellent work in building coalitions with gay-supportive clergy, African-Americans, and other groups around the state to mobilize public opinion in our favor.

If all these things come to pass, it will just be a matter of time.

Same-sex marriages have only strenthened the institution

Letter appearing in the March 11, 2010 issue of the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier:

Bravo to Diane Brown for her perceptive column on the comparison of the historical battle for interracial marriages with the current struggle for same-sex marriage (“Racial restrictions on marriage seem silly now; same-sex bans will too,” March 4)!

Maryland Attorney Douglas Gansler’s legal opinion whereby the state can recognize the lawful marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions was most welcome and is a good first step towards achieving marriage equality in the Free State.

In anticipation of this historic opinion, we decided to celebrate our 30 years together and get married in a civil ceremony in Massachusetts last summer. Massachusetts, as you know, was the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Despite the fiery reaction from religious conservatives warning that the institution of marriage would be ruined as a result, we find that the institution was only strengthened when same-sex couples’ unions were recognized by the state’s government. Massachusetts maintains its ranking of having the lowest divorce rate in the U.S., and that rate actually further declined since 2004.

People should understand that the union of loving, committed same-sex couples recognized by the government is not a threat to marriage. Divorce, adultery, poverty, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and children born out of wedlock are the real threats to the institution of marriage.

When we returned from Massachusetts to announce the news, all our straight neighbors and friends embraced our decision to become a family, shared in our joy and wished us the best in the future together. The support we received was extremely warm and sincere, and quite surprising, given the amount of effort spent by opponents of marriage equality to instill fear in the public. They didn’t bemoan this event or see their own marriages in jeopardy as a result. They understood that love is love, and that’s the way it should be.

Now with Mr. Gansler’s opinion, we can receive the same rights, benefits and responsibilities conferred on other couples in Maryland with the hope that in the near future same-sex couples would not have to leave the state to have their love and commitment recognized by the government.

Steve Charing

Bob Ford

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Luke Scott: Gunslinger

I was amazed to read in the Baltimore Sun on Feb. 27 that Orioles DH-OF Luke Scott is upset that Major League Baseball has implemented a ban on guns in the locker rooms. "I don't think everybody should pay for the mistakes of a few," he said.

This is insane. Maybe I'm just an old fashioned guy. I never liked the idea of the designated hitter. I never cared for games played on artificial surface. I hate indoor baseball. And I detest the disappearance of Sunday and holiday doubleheaders.

It's bad enough that baseball players are paid in the tens of millions but teachers who actually contribute to the betterment of society are woefully underpaid. But poor Luuuuuuuuuke (as O's fans call him) can't have his gun to go along with his bat and glove.

He comes off as an amiable chap, but I'm sure he's not a proponent of same-sex marriage or other progressive issues. Luke Scott is a Bible-carrying, finger-pointing-to-the-sky player who prays for base hits. Unfortunately for Luke and the O's, God fails to answer his prayers after the All-Star break. All Luke's swings do during his prolonged slumps is fan the fans on a hot, humid day at the Yard.

But Luke wants to carry his gun.

He mentioned the possibility, albeit "unlikely," that terrorists could somehow breach security and enter the locker room. Does anyone with the slightest hint of intelligence truly feel that a terrorist with a bomb strapped to his body would enter the Orioles locker room and blow up a stadium that is one-third filled watching the O's take on those dastardly KC Royals?

Does anyone really believe that such terrorist(s) who are about to blow themselves into the Inner Harbor would be deterred by Cowboy Luke Scott reaching into his gym bag to find the weapon?

What else is he afraid of—his teammates mugging him?

Four years ago, when Scott was a member of the Houston Astros, he told ESPN, "An athlete gets paid a lot of money. And someone who is after that, a thief, a mugger or someone who steals from people, they are taking a chance with the law that if they get caught, they are going to jail or face some other problem."

With a broad smile, he added, "In my case, you are going to get shot."

There have been way too many gun incidents in professional sports with suspended Wizzards' star Gilbert Arenas the most recent. The ban on guns by MLB makes common sense. Luke Scott feels he is being punished. I cannot recall one incident where a player in any professional sport was robbed at gunpoint in a locker room.

Like I said, I'm old fashioned. I used to believe that major league ball players and professional athletes of all sports should be role models for kids. Sadly, in Luke Scott's case, the players are now the kids.

Photo courtesy of ESPN.