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Vol. 76/No. 43      November 26, 2012

Gay rights referenda votes
register gain for working class
(lead article)
One of the important results in the 2012 elections was the victory in four states—Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota—of ballot measures that overturned discriminatory marriage laws based on prejudice against individual’s gender or sexual orientation.

These results reflect changing attitudes within the working class, striking a blow to a form of prejudice and strengthening workers’ unity and capacity to be the standard bearers in the fight against all forms of discrimination.

Before this year’s election, similar discriminatory laws barring gay marriage had been passed in state referenda the 30 times they had been on the ballot.

Even the bitterest opponents of equal protection under the law for gays admit the breadth of the change reflected in the vote on the four ballot measures.

“We should understand that this was not an argument we were going to win,” Rod Dreher wrote in the American Conservative Nov. 8, “given how most people today, especially younger Americans, think about marriage and sexuality.”

These changing attitudes are partially rooted in the social questions that were posed by the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., which began in the 1980s. As the disease spread over the next decade, hundreds of thousands were affected, particularly gay men, intravenous drug users and hemophiliacs.

As thousands fell ill, gay men and women faced discriminatory laws imposing restrictions on marriage that prevented many from using their companion’s health care plans or barred involvement of companions in their partner’s treatment. They had to stand aside if their companion’s hostile families took over.

Growing protests by gay rights groups and others helped push these issues to national attention.

The disease spread in the African-American community. Between 2000 and 2003, more than half the HIV/AIDS cases reported to the national Centers for Disease Control involved Blacks.

Millions of workers across the country were increasingly appalled at the conditions forced on victims of AIDS by anti-gay bigotry and the denial of basic rights, including from discriminatory marriage laws.

As the public debate has sharpened, especially around repeated campaigns on ballot measures over the past few years, workers support for ending anti-gay discrimination has grown.

In Washington, the statewide and Seattle AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, International Association of Machinists, Washington Education Association, and Joint Council of Teamsters for Washington, Alaska and N. Idaho, as well as numerous union locals, backed overturning the state’s discriminatory law.

“Civil marriage is a civil right,” Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told a May 2012 press conference. “We will oppose threats to the 14th Amendment guarantees of equal rights under the law in any state where this issue is raised.”

Among African-Americans, support for equal protection for gays in marriage laws stands at 59 percent, up from 41 percent just a few months ago, ABC News reported.

While many opponents of equal rights concede they have lost the battle to keep discriminatory laws on the books, they now raise a specious campaign around “religious liberty” to minimize their losses.

This fight is important for the political rights of the working class as well.

“SSM is a clear threat to religious liberty,” claims Rod Dreher in his article “SSM [single-sex marriage], Social Conservatives, & the Future.”

“It is virtually impossible to argue about this with SSM backers, because they insist religious liberty begins and ends with preachers being able to voice opposition to homosexuality, and having the right to refuse to marry gay couples in their houses of worship,” the article states.

The Maryland, Maine and Washington referenda contained provisions that defended the right of churches to decline to conduct marriage ceremonies they consider counter to their religious beliefs.

Then Dreher got to the point: “The truth of all this will be made apparent to everyone when SSM becomes constitutionalized and religious organizations and religiously devout employers are compelled to offer benefits to their gay employees and their spouses, or face government sanction, including loss of tax-exempt status.”

It is in the interest of the working class to fiercely defend the right of every individual to worship as they decide, free from government interference. But this has nothing to do with religious institutions having a “right” to deny social benefits—like health care or jobs—based on their ideological opinions.

This is the same issue posed today over the question of whether church-owned hospitals, schools and other businesses, as well as private companies whose bosses want to impose their religious views on their workers, have a “constitutional right” to deny contraceptive care to their employees.
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