Is there a more polarizing issue in the United States than gay marriage? On the same day the San Diego City Council unanimously approved renaming Blaine Avenue as Harvey Milk Street in honor of the first openly gay elected official in California, the good citizens of North Carolina passed Amendment One, which asserts “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
San Diegans should be proud of the city council’s decision. We’re taking steps to honor the legacy of civil rights activists such as Harvey Milk, who championed equality for all people, regardless of sexual preference. I read the news on our city’s small victory in the fight against bigotry, and I was proud to call this city my home. The new street name will be unveiled in a ceremony on May 22, Milk’s birthday.
Unfortunately, shortly after smiling about the local news, I heard about the decision made in North Carolina and felt differently. I felt something I’m sad to say I’ve been feeling more consistently the last few years: I felt ashamed to be an American. I’m ashamed our country hasn’t taken the moral high ground on issues related to discrimination. I’ve been ashamed of California for failing to set an example other states can follow when it comes to equal rights for all citizens. The fact that the legal status of gay marriage in California is in a state of limbo, pending appeals in court, is shameful.
North Carolina doesn’t share California’s reticence when it comes to taking a stand on the issue of gay marriage. This week, North Carolina stepped up to the ballot box and joined the ranks of the 28 states with constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.
There are two major issues here. First, there’s the obvious human rights problem that arises when the majority rises up en masse to squash the rights of a minority group. Second, one has to wonder why a state like North Carolina, which has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the U.S., is devoting so much time, energy and money to solving a problem that doesn’t need to be solved. Don’t legislators in North Carolina care about the actual problems in their state?
While I feel strongly about the necessity of equal rights for people of all sexual preferences, when I see this type of legislation in the news, the first thing I find myself wondering is why our elected officials aren’t working on solving more urgent problems. In the time it took to push Amendment One, legislators and lobbyists could have been working on the state economy by promoting education or providing health care. Instead, they chose to spend their limited time and resources actively discriminating against gay people and pandering to the lowest common denominator of the voting base.
There was a time when elected officials inspired their constituencies to social change. Leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Milk would stand in the face of the crowd and speak up for what was right, and not what was necessarily popular. The political game needs to alter its tune in order to bring about positive social change in this nation.
Real patriotism occurs when individuals start to think outside of their own individual prejudices in order to embrace that which is good for the nation. JFK knew this. Milk knew this. North Carolina apparently doesn’t, and unfortunately California hasn’t demonstrated an understanding of this principle in a meaningful way since Proposition 8.
Next time you’re driving through Hillcrest, when you pass Harvey Milk Street, take a moment to reflect on what it means to be a San Diegan. Think about what it means to be a member of a community, as opposed to an isolated citizen.
I’m confident future generations will look at this type of legislation with the same mixture of terror and fascination that we look at laws forbidding interracial marriage. My hope is that time will reveal North Carolina’s place on the wrong side of history, and that the disgusting bigotry against the Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transsexual community will die with the generation that approved Amendment One and Proposition 8.
— Kenneth Leonard is an English junior.