Ever since Wednesday, I can’t help but feel conflicted and a bit deflated. Don’t get me wrong – it was a good day and a strong step forward for President Obama to finally come out in support of marriage equality. We can anticipate gay rights being a major talking point during an election year; this time not so much as a liability but instead as a voting bloc that has power. But here’s the thing – when Obama articulated his evolution, he failed to acknowledge marriage equality as a civil rights issue. He fell back on the tired Republican line that “marriage is a states’ rights issue.” Does he not realize the heartbreak and destruction we face, as individuals and as a community, from one ballot measure to the next – and that with each vote against us we’re denied another piece of our dignity as full human beings?
Tuesday’s passage of Amendment One in North Carolina fed on the prejudices and paranoia we’ve had to overcome for decades. Then President Obama made room for hate by invoking the states’ rights rhetoric. It’s in these very states that we are repeatedly victimized, stigmatized, assaulted, humiliated, and killed, all in the name of God and freedom. It’s in these very states that we need federal protections. The president issued a statement ahead of the vote saying he opposed any measure that added discrimination to a state constitution. But if he’s going to stand on the side of marriage equality, then why half-ass it and leave room for hate and intolerance to thrive from one state to another?
Equally heartbreaking is the fact that over the past several years, the marriage equality issue has defined our community to the point that nothing else matters; to the point where most folks within and outside of our community think once we’ve got marriage, we’ve got it all. Marriage, in fact, is only one slice of a very large pie. And it would benefit a minority within the community. It’s important, but the sad reality is that in a majority of states we can all still be denied a job, denied housing, denied public accommodations such as emergency care, denied access to education, denied credit, and denied federal funding for public programs just for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The president supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but the call for full federal equality means full federal equality, not just simple lip service to pacify us once again during an election year.
With each new election season, it becomes ever so much clearer that the LGBT community continues to be played by our elected officials. “Hey, hey, look over there, look over there, that will make you happy and get you off my back!” Meanwhile, over here, the very issues that would significantly impact the daily lives of LGBT people get conveniently left behind in the news cycle, forgotten by us all, and a year later we ask, “Hey, what ever happened to...?”
Case in point: Over the past weeks a lot of media attention and activist energy focused on Obama’s refusal to sign an executive order that would protect from discrimination LGBT employees of federal contractors who receive more than $10,000 a year from the federal government. While the order wouldn’t cover all LGBT workers, research from the Williams Institute shows it would cover 16.5 million more workers – totaling 22% of the U.S. workforce – a significant down payment toward ENDA. This order has 73% approval of likely 2012 voters across party lines, including 61% support among self-identified Republicans, according to a poll from the Human Rights Campaign. And HRC found that 87% of Americans believe LGBT people already have employment protections, indicating that this move by President Obama would be a total yawn for the American public. It’s a no-brainer and certainly carries limited, if any, political risk. Yet, on Wednesday, with all the hype around Obama’s coming out for marriage equality, his refusal to sign the executive order had been forgotten by the press and the majority of the LGBT community who are now making campaign donations, calling him a champion and chastising anyone who questions Wednesday’s events.
There’s no doubt that Wednesday’s news moves us forward, but at what cost? We now have a public that believes we’re just a few yards away from full federal equality, a community that’s willing to rabidly take the scraps thrown at us from the gods while forgetting the recent past, and we have many lives that will continue to be impacted by profound inequality. So, while I say, “Thank you, Mr. President for evolving,” I also say, “And...”
And we still need you to sign the executive order; and we still need you to stop the deportations of our loved ones; and we still need to be protected from housing discrimination, job discrimination, credit discrimination, education discrimination, public facilities and accommodations discrimination, and discrimination within the U.S. military. This is what full federal equality looks like, and we’ll continue to fight for it.
DAN FOTOU attended Oral Roberts University and is an organizer with GetEQUAL. He has participated in several actions fighting for full federal equality, repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and passage of ENDA.