We in Massachusetts have had an illustrious history of progressiveness, justice, and pride. It was the first individual state to write a constitution declaring universal rights; Horace Mann led education reform here; we have the Kennedys and the Red Sox and Emily Dickinson. And we were the first state, ten years ago last month, to legalize same-sex marriage.
This is the real reason I am proud to be from Massachusetts. Same-sex marriage is now legal in sixteen countries and nineteen US states, including all of New England. National support for marriage equality is at 59%, an all-time high. And we helped elect a president who vocally endorses same-sex marriage. It might be bold to say, but from the looks of it, our progressiveness and acceptance are making international rounds.
But every major step we as a country have made toward equality has been mired in controversy. In April, a Latta, South Carolina police chief was fired based on her sexual orientation; a former Library of Congress employee sued the organization for sex discrimination; Arkansas has stalled its allowance of same-sex marriages; and just recently social media blew up in response to the NFL draft of Michael Sam, and the subsequent kiss heard ’round the world. In ten years, we’ve made quite a bit of progress, but we still have a long way to go.
Many arguments raised by opponents of same-sex marriage arise from misunderstandings of LGBT culture, and myths that arise as a result of these misunderstandings. Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico have commented extensively on mythmaking at the expense of the LGBT community in their book “You Can Tell Just By Looking”: And 20 Other Myths About LGBT Life and People. These myths—claiming, for instance, that LGBT parents are bad for children, or that existing antidiscrimination laws in the United States protect LGBT people, or the idea that same-sex marriage can harm “traditional” marriage—all contribute to the negative public response of not only same-sex marriage, but of the LGBT community in general. The authors spoke with us in more detail about these issues at an event for their book last fall.
Addressing the fear that LGBT parents somehow raise abnormal children, Pellgrini praised those children who have come forward and spoken on behalf of their LGBT parents. Despite there being a “debate” about what’s best for these children, many opponents have not been willing to hear about the normal upbringing the children have had. Bronski added that “children are products of their families” and, LGBT or not, if parents are dysfunctional, their kids will likely be dysfunctional too. The idea that LGBT parents are somehow less fit for parenthood makes little sense.
The question of antidiscrimination laws, and the protections they do or don’t provide, is more complex. To get technical, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers protections under Title VII for what is called “sex” discrimination. In the Library of Congress case, “sex” discrimination is being used as a sort of umbrella term for broader protections, including anti-gay discrimination. On the other hand, many activists have been vocal about pushing The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) through Congress, which would specifically prohibit workplace discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. But do we need a separate law for LGBT workplace discrimination if the Civil Rights Act already covers it?
The book puts it simply: “Despite many Americans believing in a basic precept of equality…LGBT people are, largely, not protected in the workplace.” The patchwork of existing state and local LGBT antidiscrimination laws is far from inclusive, and the interpretation that the Civil Rights Act also covers LGBT discrimination is simply that, a recent interpretation, and not invulnerable to further legal challenge. While ENDA wouldn’t resolve all debates of fairness, it would at least, according to the authors, “make fairness the law of the land.”
Not just a law, but a principle this country was founded on.
Massachusetts has been a beacon of hope for the marriage equality movement. At the risk of sounding too idealistic, I believe Massachusetts has created a new Freedom Trail. One that I hope leads throughout the rest of the country, picking up supporters along the way with a rallying cry for peace and equality.
Robin Beaudoin is a writer, a bookseller, and a proud resident of the state of Massachusetts. Her favorite word is genuflect.