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Stephen Whitley: Second Class Citizens


Critics of late have targeted his health care overhaul law and his economic policies, but President Obama has scored points with commentator Stephen Whitley on at least one issue.

In the last month, I have attended two weddings between straight couples.  Both were beautiful.  But while each of the couples stood at the altar and said their vows with emotion, I kept thinking how I, and millions of others, continue to be denied that experience.  A couple standing in front of friends and family, pledging their lives to each other is a powerful image-- with symbolic and legal meaning. That legal connection is a protection and a right millions of gay people are deprived of.

That’s why it was so meaningful to gays and lesbians when President Obama came out in favor of same sex marriage.  Imagine living your life thinking you’re a second-class citizen because of your sexual orientation; that your life and your relationships are looked upon as less than. Then consider what it means when the most powerful man in the world says he believes you should have equal rights.  We finally felt like we were not less equal than everyone else. 

Nine years ago, after the Lawrence v. Texas ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court that declared sodomy laws unconstitutional, I ended a commentary by stating that marriage equality was the next goal, and that I hoped it wouldn’t be long in coming.  But a majority of voters in thirty-nine states have since chosen to ban gay marriage or any form of civil union between same sex couples.  In all of these states, the population voted to deny the right to marry to their gay citizens.  I often wonder what our country would be like today if states had been allowed to decide Civil Rights on the basis of popular vote.  That is the crux of the argument for marriage equality:  In America, we are assured certain rights without having to secure them through a vote.  The equal protection clause of the Constitution is there to assure that all citizens have the same rights.  The Constitution, and specifically the 14th Amendment, does not say, “Some are more equal than others.”  We are all equal under the law.

Opinions on marriage equality are changing.  In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent of Americans said they would support laws making gay marriage legal while only 40 percent were opposed. A three-judge federal appeals court panel unanimously declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.  Two of the justices were Republican appointees.  Former Republican Solicitor General Ted Olson is fighting in court to have California’s Proposition 8 struck down.  Slowly, moderate Republicans are realizing that marriage equality is not about homosexuality, but is about equality for all Americans. 

While we haven’t achieved full marriage equality, I have hope that the word equality will really mean something one day.  Maybe we won’t have to wait another nine years. 

Stephen Whitley is a writer from Dallas.

Views expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. KERA airs commentaries to reflect multiple perspectives and voices in the community.  We welcome your feedback at