Which Way Forward for the GLBT Rights Movement?

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by Donny Lessard /  April 2005 issue of Socialist Action


In 1947 the state of California made a historic move and struck down that state’s ban on interracial marriages. At the time, 48 states had bans on

interracial marriage. According to some polls from the time, approximately nine out of 10 Americans said that they opposed interracial marriage. It seemed that the battle for fundamental civil rights could never be won. 


But times and attitudes changed with a successful civil rights movement that called for nothing short of equality. Their attitude is summed up by the famous

quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” They took their movement somewhere where it could not be ignored. They took their fight directly to the streets.


Now we move forward to 2005, where the movement in question is the one for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered rights. Before the presidential election of 2004, several gay-rights groups and numerous gay-rights activists jumped onto the Kerry campaign—and effectively ended the militant, principled actions that had been occurring quite regularly since spring of the year before.


If we recall, several cities—most notably, San Francisco—began issuing gay-marriage certificates last spring in the face of state and national legislative

opposition. Powerful rallies and demonstrations took place, which brought high visibility and challenged legislators. These actions took place independently of

the Democratic Party and called for nothing short of full civil rights in the form of gay marriage.


Sadly, this all ended in the run-up to the 2004 election.  Suddenly—despite the promising beginnings of a gay-marriage movement—leading gay-rights

activists and columnists, such as Mark Engler, began telling us that now is not the time, through rhetoric akin to the following: “In order to win, Kerry needs

to pick his battles; gay marriage is not the one to pick.”


We were told to be patient and to accept and endorse Kerry’s plan for civil unions, which was essentially the same position as Bush’s.


The truth of the matter is that the Democrats cannot be counted on to advance the agenda of GLBT rights.  This assertion is supported by history. For example, Bill Clinton—the beloved Democratic president of the 1990s —signed into legislation the antigay Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which effectively barred the notion of gay marriage.


John Kerry was against gay marriage in this past election. His supporters justified this by telling GLBT people to be patient, to work from the inside, to

slowly chip away at it, etc. We have been slowly chipping away at discrimination for 34 years, since the first gay couples tried to get marriage licenses.  They were not only refused the licenses but fired from their jobs.


How long do we have to wait? How many election cycles will waste time when we could have been forming a powerful, visible, GLBT coalition to demand full

marriage rights?


The Kerry crew then told us that we should abandon the fight for full marriage because it is “too radical” and work for civil unions. Civil unions are not

marriage under a different name. They are a category of second-class citizenship that denies fundamental rights and privileges that straight married couples enjoy.


The General Accounting Office released a list of 1049 benefits and protections available to straight married couples and denied to gay couples. Civil unions would protect some of these, but definitely not all of them.  The struggle for gay marriage should be for full marriage, with all the rights and benefits that

entails. The struggle of GLBT people is for nothing more than elementary civil rights.

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