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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Will Gay Troops Lead to Gay Family Equality?

By Kilian Melloy -

Gays who fought for--and now have all but won--the right to shoulder the burden of defending their nation may have accelerated a trend toward acceptance that will eventually lead to a nationwide right to have their families accepted, and protected, under the law.

That’s the gist of several news stories following the historic Senate vote to set aside the anti-gay law known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) which has, for 17 years, allowed gay and lesbian patriots to serve in uniform only if they keep their sexuality a closely-guarded secret.

DADT’s repeal won’t be completed overnight, and until it does sexual minorities in the Armed Forces will still need to keep mum about whom their natural affections gravitate toward. But if history repeats itself, repeal advocates have asserted, the integration of openly gay troops into the military will also hasten acceptance--and legal parity--for GLTBs in a host of other ways, much as racial and gender integration paved the way for greater equality for blacks and women. Most notably, equality advocates say, gay and lesbian families might hope to win federal marriage rights, and the array of over one thousand benefits and protections that marriage on the federal level automatically provides.

The New York Times reported in a Dec. 19 article that a new "war room for gay equality" call Equality Matters had been established by parent organization Media Matters. The new entity is dedicated to channeling the momentum toward GLBT equality that the repeal of DADT has lent to the cause toward winning full-fledged family parity for same-sex couples.

Richard Socarides will direct the new group, the article said. Socarides advised Bill Clinton on GLBT issues during Clinton’s presidency. "Yesterday was a very important breakthrough, and President Obama’s comments, especially following the vote, were very significant, where he for the first time connected race and gender to sexual orientation under the banner of civil rights," Socarides told the media following the Senate vote on Dec. 18. "But we will celebrate this important victory for five minutes, and then we have to move on, because we are the last group of Americans who are discriminated against in federal law and there is a lot of work to do."

Socarides, like many advocates for GLBT equality, has spoken harshly about the lack of progress Obama has made thus far on signature gay issues such as setting DADT aside, repealing the anti-gay federal law from 1996 known as the "Defense of Marriage" Act (DOMA), and putting federal protections for GLTB workers into place.

The New York Times noted that Obama has had some success in defending and expanding equality for America’s GLBT citizens, including signing federal hate crimes legislation that, for the first time, protects gays who have been targeted for attack out of bias. The repeal of DADT is an even bigger achievement for Obama, who promised during his candidacy to be a "fierce advocate" for equality.

However, the Times noted, there has been little movement on efforts to repeal DOMA, a vitriolic piece of legislation that singles out gay and lesbian families and denies them any federal recognition. So wide-ranging is that law’s effects that same-sex families are not only denied the same tax breaks as heterosexual couples who choose to marry; the U.S. Census originally announced that it would not be allowed even to count how many gay and lesbian families there are in the United States without running afoul of the law. In the end, though the Census questionnaire for 2010 did not ask about same-sex spouses, analysts were expected to be able to make determinations about the number, composition, and distribution of same-sex families by correlating different data points gleaned from the Census.

"For the gay rights movement, the right to marry is the holy grail, because so many other benefits--including Social Security and health benefits for gay partners, adoption rights, tax benefits and others--flow from it," the New York Times article read.

David Brock created Media Matters, noted the Times. Brock had been a conservative, but, being gay, he found it necessary to put together an organization that could counter the media messages from right-wing sources that consistently demonize gays. Brock and Socarides had drawn up plans for the new group months before the Senate’s historic vote, but the launch of the new pro-equality organization seems auspiciously timed. Brock told the Times that Equality Matters’ central purposes would be to "expose right-wing bigotry and homophobia" and to "stiffen the spines of progressives."

Pro-equality advocates have often mentioned DADT and DOMA in the same breath, so it’s natural that with DADT’s repeal now decisively under way attention would shift to the topic of marriage. "With the ban on military service removed, Congress still has one more large wrong to right for gays and lesbians: the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act," a Dec. 20 op-ed from New Jersey newspaper The Record read. "But that battle is for another day, and certainly for another Congress," the op-ed added, recognizing that the incoming 112th Congress will be more Republican in its makeup than its predecessor, thanks to the beating that Democrats took at the ballot box during the midterm elections.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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