Friday, October 9, 2015

 From the Archives

Promises to Keep: President Obama’s Politics of Change and the Future of Gay Rights
(Originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine)



      “I think that every century has a different group of people [who] have to overcome an obstacle,” Lovari comments. The outspoken gay activist is also an award-winning recording artist who wrote the single Free to Love to support the continuous fight for marriage equality. Lovari explains that in the nineteenth century we abolished black slavery; last century, we fought for and won women rights; this century is gay rights’ turn. He adds that maybe one day we will look back at our fight for gay rights the way we look back, today, at our fight for other civil rights.
      …But that day is yet to come.

The Road Ahead. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
The Road Ahead. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.


      The gay revolution did not start in the twenty-first century, but with the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Four decades later and counting, the LGBT community has come a long way, yet the fight is far from over.
      Today, next to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), marriage equality may just be one of the most fiery and talked about topic within the LGBT community and beyond. Like with other civil rights—for example the interracial marriages—the fight for legalized same-sex marriages took over the country one state at a time. And it started with Massachusetts.
      On May 17th, 2010, the Bay State celebrates six years of allowing legalized same-sex marriages. The decision has not only offered a safe haven for same-sex couples and their families, but also boosted the local economy, brought in new creative minds and an infusion of much needed younger population into the larger neighboring area (some 14.7 percent of Maine’s population is 65 years or older).
      Statistics have shown that, to start with, same-sex marriages have brought money into the state of Massachusetts through the booming wedding business. This is significant especially during tough economic times. A study by the Williams Institute of UCLA has shown that, as a result of its legalized same-sex marriages, the state of Massachusetts has gained 111 million dollars in gay weddings related spending—from gowns and tuxes to flowers, cakes, catering and hotel reservations for out-of-state guests. Gay couples usually spend about 7,400 dollars per wedding, while one in ten couples spend more than 20,000 dollars. Extrapolating these numbers to all 50 states, it turns out that, if allowed at federal level, gay marriages alone would bring a nearly one billion dollars in increased tax revenue each year.
      Also, a study done by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has shown that married same-sex couples grow closer and, more often than not, they are out. In addition, it turns out that marriage has a positive influence on the children of same-sex couples. 
      By legalizing gay marriages the state of Massachusetts has attracted gay, and also straight individuals who are part of the creative class—a group of individuals who are either financial gurus, top software programmers, educators or other passionate professionals creating in their field of choice, while thriving to excel in their profession and achieve higher goals. Generally, these are young and dedicated individuals who find appealing to live in communities which are open-minded and open to diversity.
      In the years following 2004, other New England states followed Massachusetts’ example and legalized same-sex marriages. As a result, they offered new opportunities and freedoms to married same-sex couples and their children, allowing them not only to live in one particular state, but also to move within the New England area without fear of losing their marriage—or adoptive parents—rights.
      Maybe it’s not a surprise that New England was the first to allow equal marriage rights. After all, while not always perfect, the region is known for its openness to tolerance throughout the centuries. After all, New England became the safe haven for seventeenth-century Europeans, offering a place where they could freely express their religious beliefs. Later, the region became the starting place for the abolition of black slavery. 
      But the end of the Civil War was not the end, only the beginning in the fight for civil rights. Only much later after the War, some of the states started legalizing interracial marriages (also known as miscegenations). A 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed interracial marriages in all states. As a result, the miscegenation laws still remaining in a few states became invalid. Although not enforceable anymore after 1967, these laws were enshrined in the constitutions of at least two states… South Carolina removed the law in 1998. Alabama, in the year 2000.
      President Obama’s parents got married in 1960 or 1961, as he explains in an interview with members of Human Rights Campaign [HRC]. His parents’ marriage would have been illegal in some states from the South. Therefore, the president explained that he understood the same-sex marriage rights issue “intimately.” Yet, during the same interview, the president also declared that he supported civil unions with federal rights and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). (These were the same views he had shared with Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, back in 2008, when he also mentioned that marriage is not defined in the U.S. Constitution, but by each state.] Marriage has always been defined at state level. Each state has its own definition of the term based on age, sex, (and race, which couldn’t be enforced after 1967).
      President Obama is definitely not alone in his views. Like Obama, and also at least officially, other liberals, including Hillary Clinton, share the same views on marriage equality. While this can be disappointing, on the other hand, based on their history, conservatives are almost expected to oppose any LGBT rights or other progressive initiatives. Yet, recently, Cindy McCain surprised everybody with her decision to openly support gay marriages. She switched from her husband’s (Senator McCain) views on the issue and appeared in an NOH8 ad—a “silent photographic protest” against the passage of Prop 8 in California, by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and his partner, Jeff Parshley. 
      The question is: Does Cindy McCain’s switch make any difference? She does not run for presidency. Nor does her daughter, Megan, who also appears in the same pro gay marriage ad. On the other hand, Obama will run for re-election in 2012.
      In 2008 he ran for change. And his supporters, including those from the LGBT community, believed him. Yet, his promised changed is yet to make any significant impact on people’s lives. The truth is that, like every other president and candidate for public office, Obama did overpromise, and then, once elected president, maybe he realized that his hands were too tied to do everything he had intended to do in the first place—one example is the healthcare reform.
      While some members of the LGBT community are rightfully disappointed with the change and promises Obama has delivered so far, especially when it comes to equal marriage rights, others, like Orange County AIDS and gay activist Terry Roberts, believe that it would be a “political suicide” for Obama to openly admit that he’s for gay marriages. Roberts also believes that, if re-elected, the president will legalize same-sex marriages at federal level, because he will feel free to tackle the most progressive topics on his agenda.
      This begs the question: would openly admitting his position on gay marriages really cost President Obama his 2012 re-election?
      Answers may vary from one member of the LGBT community to another.
      New York City recording artist and activist Lovari thinks that, no matter what poles say, people are split down the middle when it comes to gay marriages, reasons being (like with everything else) money and religion. A Hillary Clinton supporter, he also believes that the LGBT members who’re Obama supporters and who want their rights so strongly still believe in the president, because, like anybody else, they want so desperately to believe in something. “I don’t count,” Lovari adds. “I didn’t vote for him.”
      Across the Hudson River, Jersey City photographer and activist Beth Achenbach hopes that “people don’t put so much hope into [Obama] to change things that [they] don’t work on changing, [themselves].” Because, she says, Obama can’t change everything. It is up to members of the LGBT community to be the first in the fight for their rights.
      In sunny Florida, where same-sex couples aren’t even allowed to adopt, 25-year-old painter Teresa Korber agrees that people tend to lose faith when promises are broken or don’t materialize soon enough. “We are all people, we are all the same,” she comments, talking about same-sex marriages. She also encourages everybody to be patient. After all, most people don’t know politics and are not in President Obama’s shoes; therefore, cannot judge. Instead, Korber advises people to be persistent in fighting for their civil rights. She passionately believes that persistence always pays off. She should know. Persistence has helped her become the accomplish artist she is today.
      Any type of human discrimination is a cause for civil rights. This century may just be the one of gay rights. To accomplish that, though, same-sex marriage activists and supports need to follow in the footsteps of those who’ve fought before them: to never give up, always be vocal. “We just always have to be vocal,” Lovari encourages. “Never shut up. We don’t have all this [money,] so we have to always vocally express ourselves. Always talk, talk, talk. […] People are listening.”


As always, thanks for stopping by!
Alina Oswald