Opinion

Your gay friends, neighbors are worthy of full citizenship | Commentary

Editor's note: The following commentary was written by Kevin Poole of Renton, marking the approval of Referendum 74, which upheld same-sex marriage.

Every election cycle, somewhere in America, voters are given the opportunity to restrict, approve, or nullify the fundamental civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens. Sometimes, the question is whether it should be legal to discriminate against gay people in the workplace. Other times, it’s whether gay people should have the right to make medical decisions for their partners, adopt children together, or legally wed. Nearly every legislative and judicial victory for gay equality finds its way onto a ballot, where it’s subject to the tyranny of the majority. Adding insult to injury, the forces opposed to LGBT equality always turn to ugly mischaracterizations and outright lies to scare voters into suspending their sense of fairness. Sadly, such tactics are usually effective. But not last week in Washington, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota.

The approval of Referendum 74 last Tuesday was more than simply an affirmation of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. It was a transformative event for those of us who grew up knowing that when we found our soul mate, many people would not only disparage our love and commitment, but would see to it that our relationship never gained equal protection or recognition under the law. Nearly every gay person has experienced some form of bullying, verbal harassment, or physical violence, but perhaps the most dehumanizing form of anti-gay hostility occurs when our basic human rights are put to a vote of the masses. It’s difficult to describe how painful it is to have your neighbors vote on whether you deserve the same rights and protections that they hold dear.

Some of the setbacks we’ve endured have been utterly heartbreaking. In the summer of 2008, it was briefly possible for same sex couples to legally marry in California. My husband Bryce and I flew down to California to get married in a civil ceremony, and returned home to Renton to congratulations and excitement from our friends, family, and co-workers. Weeks later, Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in California, passed with a small majority.

We were completely caught off guard by the emotional impact of the loss. It was indescribably painful to have our personal relationship repudiated in such a public manner, the result of a campaign based on fear and falsehoods. All over the country, LGBT people and our allies spontaneously took to the streets, peacefully expressing our grief but also vowing to continue the struggle for equality in a way we never had before. We had no idea the tide would turn so quickly in just four years.

Last Tuesday, a majority of voters in four states changed the course of gay rights in this country forever by voting in support of same sex marriage equality. In so doing, they sent a clear message that their gay friends and neighbors are worthy of full citizenship. The old wounds that many of us have carried since childhood can now begin to heal. There’s still much work to be done; in 35 states, you can still be fired for being gay, and the deceptively-titled Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still denies all federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples. But the trajectory is now clear: sooner rather than later, we will see full equality under the law for all gay Americans.

On a final note, I sincerely appreciate the efforts of our Renton area state representatives and senators, all of whom co-sponsored the original marriage equality bills in the House and Senate. And special thanks to State Rep. Marcie Maxwell for her tireless work on behalf of LGBT equality.

Kevin Poole lives in Renton with his husband, Bryce Miller.

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