HOUSTON VOICE • JANUARY 7, 2000
VOICES AND ECHOES
Vermont should help bring us equality in the new millennium
The 20th Century, fittingly, went out with a roar that
has left the conservative right quivering
in its bigoted boots. The source of their
angst is the recent Vermont Supreme
Court decision that same-sex couples
should have the same marriage benefits
extended to different-sex couples.
While the case applies only to
Vermont, it is sending Shockwaves to the
very core of a conservative movement
that works tirelessly to perpetuate discrimination against the LGBT community. This fear- and hate-motivated, anti-
gay movement cloaks itself in carefully
crafted rhetoric, using phrases such as
"traditional family values" and "the
sanctity of marriage between a man and
a woman" to garner support and to chill
hearts in a public that traditionally supports equality and fairness.
But the Vermont Supreme Court
turned a deaf ear to the conservative din.
Instead, the five justices largely based
their decision on the state's constitution
which contains a "Common Benefits
Clause" that says the state's government
should be "instituted for the common
benefit, protection and security of the
people, nation, or community, and not for
the particular emolument or advantage of
any single person, family, or set of persons
who are part of only that community."
In short, the state is violating its constitution that guarantees equality for all of
In its wisdom, and undoubtedly
because they understand how slowly the
wheels of government can turn, the justices also ruled that the Vermont
Legislature must act in an "expeditious
fashion" in carrying out the court's order
of either legislating same-sex marriage or
providing a "substantial equivalent."
Gay rights activists have reacted in a
cautiously optimistic fashion. New
Orleans gay rights attorney John Rawls
criticized the Vermont justices for stopping short of ruling that "marriage is
marriage and licenses should be granted
to the defendants in the case. ... They're
saying 'separate but equal,' but separate
is not equal. They were very reluctant to
use the 'marriage' word."
While the ruling will be cited repeatedly in cases across the nation and is "a
great victory" for the gay community,
Rawls cautioned that it also will fuel the
backlash against gay rights.
"The fallacy of all of this is that equality is a bad thing. We've proven time and
again that's not the case," Rawls said.
The battle for—and against—equality
dates back to the very start of the nation.
Our founding fathers created the U.S.
Constitution around the basic tenets of
freedom and equality, albeit under their
narrow understanding of such freedoms
and their unwillingness to extend full
rights and equality to everyone.
In the 1800s, abolitionists fought for an
end to slavery, and on Dec. 18, 1865, the
13th Amendment to the Constitution was
declared ratified by 27 of 36 state legisla
tures. Slavery was abolished.
Although the battle for women's
equality had already begun, the next victory proved to be less-than-equal.
On March 30, 1870, the Secretary of
State declared that the necessary majority—29 of 37 states—had ratified the 15th
Amendment. The amendment stipulated
that the right of U.S. citizens to vote
could not be denied based on "race, color,
or previous condition of servitude."
Voting rights were extended to black
men—but not women—although it
would be decades before blacks could
take full advantage of the polls.
Some 50 years and countless battles and
protests later, women finally were granted
the right to vote. On Aug. 26, 1920, the
19th Amendment was signed after 36 of 48
state legislatures had ratified it.
Alice Paul, a preeminent feminist
leader, wrote an equal rights amendment
and introduced it to Congress in 1921,
and an ERA has been introduced every
congressional session since 1923.
Paul's amendment states: "Equality of
Rights under the law shall not be denied
or abridged by the United States or any
state on account of sex." Those 23 words
send shivers down the spines of conservatives and misogynists who to this day
fight an ERA.
The ERA passed Congress in 1972, and
the National Organization for Women led
the fight for its ratification by the deadline date of July 1982. The deadline mandate from Congress was designed to
stymie NOW's national campaign, and it
succeeded, although narrowly: 35 of the
38 needed states ratified the amendment.
The quest for equality has not ended.
Efforts are underway to introduce and
ratify a Constitutional Equality
Amendment that broadly protects
women's rights, including reproductive
rights, but also would forbid discrimination based on "sex, race, sexual orientation, marital status, ethnicity, national
origin, color or indigence."
Despite the ground gained in the '90s for
gay rights, there is a backlash by a few who
want the power to decide who should—
and should not—be considered "equal"
under the law. They expect gay men and
lesbians to pay taxes, obey laws and essentially knuckle under and accept second-
class status. They incorrectly predict that
by extending equal rights under the law to
our community, it will be the demise of
"the traditional family" as they see it.
Detractors used similar tactics to stop
the end of slavery and to deny voting
rights to black men and women. They
fought desegregation, interracial marriages, equal education and job opportunities, and the civil rights and women's
Now they are fighting the gay rights
movement. Vermont opened the door last
month, and it's up to us to make sure
other states follow—however long it
takes to achieve equality.
Melinda Shelton is editor of IMPACT
Neivs in New Orleans, a sister neivspaper of
the Houston Voice.
More than a 'dot-org'
at -work on the Net
To the Editor:
Thank you for your nicely written and
generally accurate story, "New kids on the
Net" (Dec. 17). But there are two things
we'd like to clarify and comment on.
In the story's lead, you ask whether a
"dot-com" or "dot-org" by itself substitutes
for "a constituency, bylaws, and the other
traditional measures of an organization's
I would like to point out that
NationalGayLobby.Org has a constituency—our members, and the tens of thousands of individuals (not hits) who visit our
web-site each month.
Not only does NGL have bylaws, we are
the only national organization I know of
that publishes its bylaws at its web-site.
And, as for "the other traditional measures of an organization's legitimacy," NGL
has in its brief, six month existence:
• Been granted a corporate charter by the
Commonwealth of Virginia;
• Attracted members from all 50 states;
• Seated more than one-third of its 29
• Raised and spent in excess of $12,000
on start up, operating expenses and on
• Conducted activism on the Hate
Crimes Prevention Act, including a silent
vigil outside the White House on Nov. 6; as
well as work on incidents ranging from the
railroading of a gay man by a county judge
in Michigan to the firing of a gay man by a
SUNOCO affiliate in Indiana to protesting
entrapment arrests in Virginia,
NationalGayLobby.Org is much more
than "just a dot-org," and that NGL meets all
the criteria generally included in "traditional measures of an organization's legitimacy."
NGL is also as non-profit as an organization can be. We have no shareholders and if
we ever dissolve, our assets must be transferred to an appropriate non-profit entity.
We have not opted to seek an IRS 501(c)
designation because tax-exempt groups are
too limited in their activities.
Open club's doors to gay men
To the Editor:
As a former employee of Sue Ellen's, a lesbian bar in Dallas, and being a gay man, I find
it hard to believe in the reasoning of Alexis
Wasifuddin in changing the policies at Club
Rainbow to allow men ("Lesbian club opens its
doors," Dec. 17). During my employment at
Sue Ellen's, the incidents of straight men coming to harass lesbian customers were extremely
rare. It was also my part of my job to watch any
suspicious males that entered the club and to
remove them if needed.
I find it infuriating when a gay and lesbian
business is discriminating. This is exactly
what our community has been fighting
against since Stonewall. We of all people
should know better than this. 1 sincerely hope
that we always cause a brouhaha when this
happens. I just can't believe that ignorance is a
Lesbian club should be proud
To the Editor:
I don't know exactly what transpired to
make the owners of Club Rainbow feel the
need to apologize ("Lesbian club opens its
doors," Dec. 17) or defend its tagline
"Exclusively for Gay Women." 1 am a gay
woman and I can't tell you the number of
times I have been denied entrance to most
of the gay male clubs in this citv for silly
things like wearing open toe shoes, when
gay men with the same shoes were allowed
in with no hassle.
! doubt very seriously that this lesbian
club ever denied entrance to a gay man. 1
have to say I was excited to see the club
open. I felt proud. We should all remember
that we are a community and little battles
like this do us no good.
Ladies put your tagline back up and
remember, in the world of business, it is a
dog eat dog world. By surrendering to this
type of silly whining only sets you up to be
bitten by the other dog. Tut vour tagline
back up and be proud.
Let us know what you think
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