Equality for gays and lesbians far past due

By Bethany Reinhart

Years ago, an amazing couple opened their home to me. They offered me a place to live without any hesitation. While staying with them, I saw the love and commitment they had for each other. They functioned like any other married couple-jointly making financial decisions, splitting holidays with each other’s families and even fighting over who forgot to put the cap back on the toothpaste. But because of discriminatory laws that affect gays and lesbians, the two men were not legally married.

During our friendship, we have, on many occasions, discussed the prejudice and discrimination they, as a same-sex couple, have endured. On occasion, we have discussed horrendous hate crimes and especially the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard.

Oct. 12 marked the 10th anniversary of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder. On the night of Oct. 7, 1998, Shepard was viciously beaten and tortured, tied to a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyo. He died five days later as a result of severe head injuries. Shepard was a 21-year-old gay college student who was killed in the most unfathomable of hate crimes.

As a society, we have come a long way in the last 10 years, since word of Shepard’s death sent shockwaves through the country. But we have not come far enough. Hate crimes against homosexuals are less frequent, but they do still occur. Over the years, our society has become more educated, accepting and tolerant, but we still deny homosexual couples the same rights given to heterosexual couples.

This election year, both candidates from both parties agree that gays and lesbians should be entitled to most of the same rights as heterosexuals; however, they should not be allowed to marry. Instead, there has been discussion of same-sex unions, which would begin providing some basic rights to same-sex couples-but it’s still not enough. It is disappointing that both Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama-who is touted as the most liberal senator in Congress, according to National Journal-both share a strong stance against gay marriage.

Sadly, even high-powered Google, a corporation that typically keeps a low profile on topics outside of the business world, has taken a stance against gay marriage. On Sept. 27, the company’s 10-year anniversary, Google adopted an official corporate stance against Proposal 8, a November ballot measure that would amend the California constitution by banning same-sex marriage.

The discrimination gays and lesbians continue to face in our society is not limited to the denial of same-sex marriage. Each and every example of this discrimination is unacceptable and is proof that we, as a society, still have a long way to go.

One obvious instance of discrimination is adoption restrictions. According to SpeakOut.com, a gay rights activism website, only 19 states allow same-sex couples to adopt children, and, even then, it is an expensive two-part process. One parent must first adopt the child, and later, the second parent can petition for joint rights.

Another instance in which society is not only unjustly discriminating, but also passing on these discriminatory behaviors to our children, is the June 2000 Supreme Court decision to allow the Boy Scouts Organization to ban gay scoutmasters.

In the past several decades, we have made decent strides. In a conversation with a close friend, who happens to be a gay man in his mid-40’s, he said when he and his partner of more than 25 years began dating, they felt as if they literally had to live in the shadows.

Twenty-five years ago, he said, gay men would have been killed in many places throughout the United States if they were openly gay, and especially if they showed any outward affection toward their partner.

We have come a long way since the 1990s. However, just because hate crimes have become less frequent doesn’t mean our work toward full acceptance of gays and lesbians is complete. The government needs to step up and legalize civil unions in all states. Until our government takes action, we cannot stop fighting discrimination and we must come together with a united voice to support equal rights for gays and lesbians.