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Iowa Legislature “Turning Back the Clock” on Equal Rights

Once on the forefront of civil rights, Iowa has long been a leader in advocating not only social justice, but fair and proper practice of the law. To turn back the clock on gay rights is to destroy the legacy of the legally progressive state that first allowed a woman to practice law; a state that allowed slaves their freedom and desegregated schools before the president or Supreme Court did. Iowa protected the rights of its citizens not in response to public outcry, but because it was the right thing to do.

Perhaps people back then understood why the Constitution set apart a judicial branch—the only branch not subject to special interest money or arbitrary political climates. I think it’s safe to say that few people would argue to overturn the aforementioned decisions, and the velocity with which House Study Bill 50 failed may be proof of that. It is appalling to me, however, that Iowa helped Bob Vander Plaats delegitimize the important role of such defenders of justice.

That is not to say the courts are perfect. There are countless court opinions with which I wholeheartedly disagree. But throwing money (nearly $1 million, to be exact) at an issue and frightening justices across the country out of doing the duties they were appointed to perform corrupts the judiciary at a basic level. That’s the type of fear-mongering the anti-justice campaign spread last November, and that our legislators are furthering by attempting, out of intolerance and anger, to write discrimination into a constitution which is wittingly difficult to amend. And if the legal implications aren’t enough, try another perspective.

Where civil rights are concerned, the argument is not solely an issue of law and order. In Varnum v. Brien, the court did what it deemed appropriate according to established law, but when the people get involved, it no longer remains a rational battle. While you debate your stance on same-sex unions consider this: this isn’t an all-business case like campaign spending and, at a humanistic level, it isn’t just about marriage. It’s about people’s lives. It’s about the equal right to create and protect a family, not just because the Constitution says you can, but because it is reprehensible to stare another human being in the face and tell them they don’t deserve the life you were afforded, just because they are different or because some actor in a well-funded commercial tells you they’re wrong.

Iowa voters had a chance to vote for a constitutional convention and move forward to ban gay marriage last fall, but they chose not to by an overwhelming margin. The House resolution proposing a gay-marriage ban is equally likely to fail in the end, but the hateful rhetoric surrounding this issue must stop. Whether you look at it from a legal standpoint or an emotional one, I urge public officials and the people of Iowa to focus on the struggling economy rather than 1950’s-era discriminatory legislation. I urge you to uphold Iowa’s forward-thinking legacy and stand up for one another, in the spirit of democracy or compassion, so that perhaps the next time someone asks me where I’m from, I can once again be proud to say “I’m from Iowa.”

See this article published in my alma mater’s newspaper, The Simpsonian.

Moment of Sincerity: Spread the Love

Note: Another pre-DADT Repeal post.

Nearly half a century has passed since President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and our nation has made great progress toward equality since then. It would be easy to think that, in the 21st Century, discrimination is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. According to a recent FBI report, more than 6,600 hate crimes were reported in the United States in 2009, 90% of which were related to race, religion, or sexual orientation. Hate crimes here in Colorado have increased by 25% since 2008.

Sarah Silverman: They Learned it From You

The epidemic of suicides among gay teens as a result of bullying is all the harrowing proof one needs that hate is still alive and well in today’s society. But many believe that bullying in schools isn’t the only thing to blame for the pressure that drove nearly half a dozen teens to take their own lives this fall. Considering the recent failure of a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, the verbal abuse toward LGBT communities by religious groups and public officials, and the failure by those in power to protect the citizens of this country from discrimination, it’s easy to see where those bullies may have learned to hate homosexuals.

In Iowa, the National Organization for Marriage funneled nearly one million dollars into a campaign to oust threejustices up for a retention vote, because they were part of the unanimous landmark Varnum v. Brien decision which legalized gay marriage in the state. In North Carolina, members of the Westboro Baptist church protested at the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards, holding signs that said things like “God Hates Fags,” and “Thank God for Breast Cancer.”

In Washington, a defense bill that would end the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was killed by Republicans before it even made it to the floor. This is the second time Senate Republicans have blocked the bill, despite an extensive Pentagon study which showed that an end to the policy would not harm the military, a call from the President and the military’s joint chiefs of staff to repeal it, and the fact that 67% of Americans support the repeal.

In addition, a recent study by Yale University showed that gay and lesbian youth are more frequently and more harshly punished in school and legal systems than their straight counterparts. What are we telling our young people when we allow our own children, educators, public defenders, and elected officials to send hateful messages of discrimination and unequal treatment on a regular basis? We cannot continue treating our LGBT neighbors as second-class citizens. This type of behavior is not only immoral and unconstitutional, but it is also putting all of our youth in grave danger by teaching them that it is okay to hate or mistreat those who are different from them.

It’s a terrifying travesty of justice that such inequality and ill-treatment of American citizens is allowed to continue in the 21st Century. But it isn’t all bad news: there is hope. NOM chose the wrong battle, and though they took away those justices’ jobs, gay marriage is still legal in the state of Iowa. At the Edwards funeral, as with most Westboro protests, the picketers were overwhelmingly outnumbered by counter-protesters with messages of hope and love. The American attitude toward LGBT issues is rapidly shifting toward acceptance and understanding. It’s up to us to continue this positive change.

After all we’ve been through to get to the 21st Century as a fair and civilized society, it should be a given that all men (and women) truly are created equal, and that there is no place in our educational or legal systems for this kind of hatred and discrimination. I call on each of you to remember people like Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and other gay teens who may feel so afraid and alone that they’ve considered taking their own lives. I encourage you to stand with gay soldiers and thank them for their service by contacting public officials to show support for a DADT repeal. There are things that you can do to ensure that gay teens and adults alike find help, support, and love this holiday season.

Support equality-based organizations in your community, and help educate others on these types of issues. Tell your school board how important it is to make our schools safe for all of our children. Call your Senators and Congressmen, and ask that those who risk their lives for our safety be allowed to serve openly. Share your understanding with fellow community members. Most importantly, let the children of the world know that they are the future; that they are loved and supported no matter who they are; and that there is hope for a safer, better world for them, if they only stick around long enough to find it.

Gay Rights Lost the Battle, But Can Still Win The War

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” – George Washington

Note: This is a pre-DADT Repeal post from another blog.

Despite the best efforts of President Obama, gay rights activists, and Lady Gaga Herself, Senate Democrats in support of the Defense Reauthorization Bill failed to enact broad legislation which would, among other things, successfully repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But Tuesday’s close 56-43 vote, while disappointing, does not mean the endof the modern gay rights movement.

In fact, it seems almost a mere bump in the long but increasingly successful road to equality that supporters have been actively paving for decades. Just within the last year, activists have gained high-status lobbying partners, public officials have begun to show more outward support for equal rights, and there has been a significant shift in public opinion toward LGBT issues.

In 2009, Iowa became a catalyst as the third state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire quickly followed suit, bringing the count to six states in which same-sex couples can legally wed. The District of Columbia also came on board, and began performing marriages earlier this year. Most of these decisions were followed by a commanding backlash, but while many states were rushing to amend their constitutions to prohibit gay marriage, several others were passing civil union and domestic partnership laws, granting gay couples the same rights provided to straight married couples.

And that’s just the beginning. In 2006, Arizona (home of such staunch conservatives as John McCain and Jan Brewer) became the first state in which a constitutional ban on gay marriage failed by popular vote. Though California’s ballot initiative, the infamous Proposition 8, was successfully passed, activists everywhere were celebrating last month when a Reagan/Bush-appointed federal judge struck down the law, declaring it unconstitutional.

Just one month earlier, a different federal judge invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute which dictated that only male to female marriages could be legally recognized. Then, a few short weeks ago, yet another federal judge declared the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy an unconstitutional infringement upon the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian soldiers. The momentum from this landmark decision prompted activists across the country to call for a legislative repeal of the policy, even garnering outspoken support from Lady Gaga, one of the world’s most recognized celebrities.

All of these steps toward equality have, however, also forced the hand of faith-based organizations and interest groups. In the past several months, coalitions of Catholics and other institutes of faith have poured money into the National Organization for Marriage, which, in turn, has funneled the cash into various efforts to fight back against these marriage decisions. The organization dropped almost a quarter of a million dollars in Iowa alone, producing massive ad campaigns against the justices who handed down the unanimous decision.

These organizations also have allies in many public officials, including hard-liner conservatives like Senator John McCain. Allies who, on Tuesday, filibustered into submission any chance at a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, proving that the gay rights movement is still very much an uphill battle. But while those citizens who oppose gay marriage are still in the majority, studies by the PEW research forum show that the gap is narrowing. Over the last ten years, support for legalization has increased by 10%, and those who support civil unions are in an even larger majority than those who oppose gay marriage. So, while the gay rights movement is still met by serious religious opposition, the growing force behind it and the marked shift in public opinion shows that this fight is not a lost cause. Not even close.