Friday, October 28, 2005

Gays need heterosexuals to oppose 'Queer Crow' laws

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A Column by Deb Price The Detroit News Monday, October 24, 2005 Leslie Thompson recalls waking up to wave after wave of painful emotions -- disbelief, anger, fear -- last Nov. 3, the morning after Michigan voters passed a state constitutional ban on gay marriage. In 10 other states, gay Americans awoke in similar agony, realizing that they, too, lived in a place where a majority of voters wanted the state constitution to deny their gay neighbors' basic rights that heterosexuals take for granted. And gay Americans everywhere awoke to the dawning of a terrifying new era of "Queer Crow" laws, which attempt to reverse gay progress. The laws are horribly reminiscent of segregationist Jim Crow laws -- passed in reaction to advances toward racial equality -- that long locked the South's black Americans into second-class citizenship. But rather than cower, gay Americans have responded to the Queer Crow threat by taking more responsibility to educate our nation's heterosexual majority -- by coming out, speaking up and joining hands. Thompson, executive director of Detroit's Affirmations community center, says 80 people showed up to "vent" after the election. They then swung into action. Since then, more than $2 million has been raised for a new gay community center. "There's been a huge shift from a sense of defeat," Thompson says. "People now understand that we have to be strong and ready the next time something like this happens." There will be a next time and a next time because anti-gay extremists have been dangerously emboldened by their successes: 18 state constitutions now include anti-gay marriage amendments. This Nov. 8, Texas will vote on a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and Maine will vote on whether to repeal a law against anti-gay bias. The Texas amendment, like ones in Utah, Michigan, Ohio and five other states in 2004, includes "marriage plus" wording that casts a shadow over the legality of unions other than heterosexual marriage. But a poll conducted in Utah suggests that voters often don't realize anti-gay amendments may later be used to go beyond restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found in August that only 33 percent of voters in Utah who supported the marriage-plus amendment said it would deny gay partner benefits. Yet in July, when the Salt Lake County Council voted 5-4 against partner benefits, gay foes cited the newly passed marriage amendment. Similarly in Michigan, anti-gay forces seized the election results to try to stop governments and colleges from extending health benefits to gay employees' partners. That fight is still in court. In Ohio, courts are weighing whether that state's amendment was so broad that domestic violence charges can no longer be brought against live-in heterosexual partners and gay parenting agreements are invalid. After the election in Georgia, the Legislature quickly passed laws to prevent Atlanta from penalizing a country club that doesn't treat its gay members equally and from rewarding city contractors that provide equal worker benefits. Chuck Bowen of Georgia Equality warns, "The extreme right has us on the run." Already, the national anti-gay industry is gearing up a new product line -- state constitutional amendments banning gays as adoptive or foster parents. These are expected to be rolled out as early as November 2006 in Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky and Ohio. Gay people alone can't stop the tide of Queer Crow laws. We need fair-minded heterosexuals to stand up for us -- and fairness.