Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Prioritizing Equal Rights

Tensions have been high over the past few weeks between the LGBTQ community and the Obama administration. Last week President Obama asked that the U.S. Supreme Court reject the case of James Pietrangelo II, an infantryman dismissed from the Army under the antiquated Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy. A few days later, the Department of Justice filed a brief (full PDF here courtesy ABC news) that supported the Defense of Marriage Act. Fortunately, today, President Obama is set to sign a memorandum granting same-sex partner benefits to federal employees, a move that many hope marks only the beginning of the administration's move towards reform.

With the state of the economy, many pundits have claimed that civil rights of the LGBTQ community are simply not a current priority. Certainly, President Obama has been presented with a tough set of issues to resolve: between pulling out of Iraq and trying to push through health care reform, the President has hit the ground running during his first four and a half months in office.

So where does that leave the LGBTQ community? Are we justified in expecting progress on civil rights when there are other issues bogging down the nation?

Just ask the suffragists: they faced a similar predicament during World War I. When the United States entered the war in 1917, suffragists were faced with a choice: step aside while the nation was at war, or continue to pursue their cause. Fortunately for women today, Alice Paul and other suffragists continued to fight for our rights and eventually were successful with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Which brings us back to today. Yes, we are a nation at war. Yes, we are struggling through the worst economic circumstances since the late 1920s. But one thing we've learned from history is that the fight for civil rights takes persistence, even during a difficult time in the nation's history. Unless we demand that LGBTQ rights be a priority in this country, this fight will never be won.

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