This week’s word is: EQUALITY
the state of being equal, especially in having the same rights, status, and opportunities – Macmillan Dictionary Online
Last week, we saw a major development in the name of equality for Americans when New York passed a marriage equality bill. With this move, the Empire State joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia in offering these rights. Because of New York’s population, this is a significant development. Before last week, only 5% of Americans lived in a place that offered full equality; now over 35 million citizens, 11.2% of the country, have access to that right.
I do not want to diminish this wonderful moment in history, but I feel compelled to point out the irony. In a nation founded on the principle that all [people] are created equal, celebrating the incremental equality of one group of Americans is a sad state of affairs.
In fact, the very language around this issue points to the long road ahead of us in terms of true equality. Most major news outlets, including the hypothetically liberal enclave of NPR, referred to the issue as one of “same-sex marriage” rather than one of marriage equality. That allows the opponents of full rights for LGBTQ Americans to brand this as a “special right” rather than admitting that their opposition is flat out bigotry. Language matters, and this is an issue of equal rights, plain and simple. Journalists should be responsible enough to communicate it as such.
How far do we have to go?
- Nearly 89% of Americans do not have access to marriage equality; a significant number of these citizens have equality actively denied them by their state’s constitution.
- The hypocritically named Defense of Marriage Act ensures that even people with locally-based marriage equality are denied over 1,100 Federal rights and privileges. This can lead to nightmarish complications when state and federal policies and laws overlap; an excellent example is taxation and filing status.
- While it is heartening that President Obama has instructed the Justice Department not to defend DOMA in Federal court, the immediate reaction from the right should terrify and galvanize anyone interested in equality. The fact that professional homophobe Michele Bachmann catapulted to the top of this pack of potential losers-in-chief is equally frightening.
Moreover, this just addresses one issue. While job protections are more prevalent that marriage equality, people all over the country still risk being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Protection from discrimination in housing and public accommodation is also piecemeal.
In the end, we can only reach true equality by changing attitudes. Legal measures are critical, but as long as
- Broadcasters treat same-sex couples and their affection with a double-standard;
- Newspapers fail to cover rallies in support of LGBTQ Americans;
- Social media practice confusing and apparently conflicting standards around LGBTQ issues and participants;
- Video game companies are bashed by customers for including the simple option of an LGBTQ player; and
- Commenters on public media blogs and news sites feel comfortable attacking LGBTQ Americans for their “lifestyle”
we have a long way to go.
Many of the signs are good. In several of the cases listed above, the company, state, or organization took the right stand for equality. Polls show that overall support for marriage equality is at an all-time high and growing. If the supporters of equality are not vigilant, forceful, and consistent, however, the risks are great.
Let us celebrate New York’s move and dedicate ourselves as a nation to equality that is truly equal.