The gay community in the US is still fighting for basic human rights. While it is true that the fight has moved to the court system in recent years due to the passage of anti-discrimination legislation, many wonder if it is really progress if members of the gay community have to hire a lawyer to gain the right to walk into a bakery and buy a cake. A ruling handed down Friday by Administrative Law Judge Robert N. Spencer told a Colorado man named Jack Phillips that he had to allow anyone who walked into his shop to purchase any of the wares he had to offer. For most people, that would seem like a common sense proposition. Some might even call it good business acumen. When the two gay men, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, entered the Masterpiece Cakeshop, they were turned away. The cake shop wouldn’t allow them to purchase, of all things, a cake.
Phillips cited religious freedom as his defense, stating that gay marriage was against his beliefs as a Christian. Lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in to defend him in his assertion. Lawyers from the ACLU stepped in on the side of the couple wanting a cake, and it took an act of the legal system to arrive at the fact that it is illegal to offer a product, then refuse to sell it to customers based on their sexual orientation. That is a whole lot of time, money and heartache to make a point that seems fairly self-evident.
Proceeding on the premise that the principles involved are not as self-evident as one might think, it ought to follow that the elected officials responsible for making laws must have a handle on the concept. That does not, however, appear to be the case.
In a report that came out of Washington D.C. this week, it came to light that Virginia Representative Randy Forbes has been lobbying other members of the National Republican Congressional Committee to deny backing to two openly gay candidates. His efforts to this effect have apparently been underway for some time. It seems to be coming to light now because several members of the committee leaked the information to news sources out of concern he might be chosen to chair the Armed Services Committee, should it become available as expected. Whatever political machinations are responsible for the revelation, the fact that the gay community in the US is still fighting and having to justify exercising their basic human rights is an indictment of our country as a whole.
For many forty and fifty-something gay activists who spent a large part of the last twenty-five years fighting to have their right to work and live and eat cake wherever any other citizen has the right to do so, the increasing frequency with which gay-rights legislation has been passed has been viewed as progress. Without a doubt, it is. The concept that it represents a move toward a more enlightened population, committed to the ideals of equality and human decency, however, seems erroneous in light of current events.
To the contrary, it looks to the naked eye like every legislative step forward toward equality and cooperation breeds a more blatant and unrepentant attempt to circumvent that legislation. Looking at the events of just one sample week like this one, it appears that change had not necessarily been synonymous with progress.
For years, the battle cry of the gay rights movement was, “Remember Stonewall!” It was an exhortation to fight back in the face of obvious injustices, but more than that it was a call to remember. It was a call to make sure that the lessons learned from the past were carried into the future and not forgotten. It was a call that this current generation is hearing as but a distant echo. Is it possible that those hearts that were so full of passion and purpose stopped remembering as gay rights legislation began to be passed? Have the defiant voices screaming out from Stonewall been silenced?
More likely is that the reasons that Stonewall needed to be remembered were forgotten. History suggests that legislated rights don’t matter as long as they stay on the paper. Scholars would say that remembering means not repeating the past; that remembering means teaching, and speaking out; that it means sharing the revelations and realities that brought the country to the point where it was able to recognize the basic need for those rights to be guaranteed. The fact that a gay couple in Colorado had to go to court to get their wedding cake may seem like a defeat within a victory to some, but a closer look might reveal that it is instead a clarion call for an end to complacence. The Stonewall generation is getting older. Today, remembering most likely means making sure that the stories get told, so that this and every generation going forward might be a Stonewall generation. It is a difficult reality for some that the gay community in the US is still fighting for basic human rights, but the most important part of it is that they are still fighting.
By Jim Malone