Last night, I watched a momentous moment in the history of this nation unfold on my television screen. Barack Obama, this nation's first viable (having actually won the nomination of his party) black candidate for President, won that office in a landslide victory that stripped away the final barrier to success for black Americans and gave hope to millions. The celebration was huge, and well deserved.
I was born in the same year as President-elect Obama, and I watched the struggles for equality play out on my television screen as a young child. Even then I knew how wrong it was to deny rights to someone based on something that was beyond their control, and more importantly, had so little true meaning. After all, I thought - underneath that skin of any shade, lay the heart and soul of a human being, no different than myself. Always having been one to follow the Golden Rule, I imagined how I would feel if I were treated differently based on something so superficial, and denied the right to enjoy the true freedom of being an American despite being born in this country - just because my parents weren't white.
However, I cannot be true to the enlightenment I experienced back then if I stop only with equality for blacks, women, or other "minorities", and do not extend that same belief that EVERY human being is equal and therefore deserving of equal rights to other groups that are still struggling to achieve true equality in America. That is why, as wonderful as it was to watch and be part of (my husband and I both voted for Obama and donated to his campaign) that historic moment when America elected its first black President, I also realized that there are still many long miles left on the road to true equality in America.
As a case in point, in California, a ballot referendum that would ban same-sex marriage (including those that have already taken place in that state) seems poised to pass, although the vote count is not yet official. Several other states also adopted bans on same-sex marriage and/or bans on allowing gay couples to adopt children.
True equality in America cannot be claimed until ALL Americans are treated equally. To deny rights to millions of American citizens based solely on the fact that a majority of Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, or have some religious conviction that opposes it, is no less bigoted and discriminatory than having separate water fountains and segregated schools. To have such a measure be this close to passing on the same day that we finally break through that highest milestone for another group that was once considered less than equal casts a pall over what should have been one of America's most perfect moments.
One of the things that surprised me the most was that there were also referendum measures on several ballots regarding limiting abortion rights. As far as I can tell, ALL of those measures to limit abortions failed. While this is a victory for the rights and freedoms of American women, it shows that it is not just the religious conservatives who are responsible for the discrimination against gay couples, as those who base their opinions on religion alone also oppose abortion, but were unable to even get abortion limits approved, let alone get abortion banned.
So, we cannot blame the discrimination against gays and gay couples on religion alone. The truth is that while many of us have overcome (or never adopted) the racism of the past, and many of us have come to recognize that whatever our personal feelings about abortion, we do not have the right to make that choice for someone else - we have not yet evolved to the point of accepting ALL people, as they are, without requiring them to fit into any pre-ordained mold. We have yet to recognize that simple truth that I first awoke to while watching the civil rights marches of the '60's - that behind any of the things that might divide us, we are ALL human beings, and by virtue of our humanness alone, deserving of equal treatment and equal rights and freedoms.
That INCLUDES the gay community in America. That means that we should never treat a homosexual person or couple differently than we treat so-called "straight" people. It means that when you cast your vote to deny rights to someone who has never broken any laws, based solely on the fact that you don't like or agree with their sexual orientation, then you are being a bigot. Just having such referendums on the ballot proves that bigotry and discrimination are still alive and well in America. Sadly, the only thing that has changed is the object of our hatred.
I am a straight woman, happily married to a man who is my true soulmate. Allowing gay couples to experience the same joy in their unions that I have found with my husband harms no one. It does not "threaten marriage" because it cannot. If anything, it enhances the true meaning of marriage, because for the first time, every American would be able to enjoy the right to marry the person of their choice based solely on their love and devotion to that person, without limits and without anyone judging their choice.
I am thrilled that Barack Obama will be our next President. I am proud of my country for rejecting race-based bias in the most monumental way possible - by electing a black American as President. But I am also saddened by the small-minded and provincial thinking of far too many Americans who still can't see that discriminating against gay Americans is just as wrong and just as harmful to our progress as a nation and as a species as discriminating against blacks, Hispanics, women, the disabled, the elderly, etc. Yet I will continue to hope that in my lifetime, I will see the day when these last vestiges of bigotry and hate are finally tossed away in favor of a more enlightened view. Until that day comes in America, despite all that we have gained in the last 24 hours, we will never be a truly free and EQUAL society.