Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Too Little, Too Late?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Too Little, Too Late?

Article excerpt

Is the gay and lesbian movement reactionary? By that I mean, do we spend most of our energy reacting to our enemies, defending against attacks? Or do we dare to dream of real changes for the better, to believe in our own forward momentum? Can we muster the vision that led other movements in American history--abolitionism, suffragism, the civil rights and antiwar movements--to victory? Look at the issue of same-sex marriage in Hawaii, and the answer is deeply troubling.

As many know, the Hawaii supreme court is on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage in the Aloha State, possibly this year. But in April Hawaii state legislators passed a constitutional amendment that would permit them to ban same-sex marriage. The amendment must be ratified by voters in the next election. If it is, the legislators will have the power to overrule the court. And if they do--poof!--no same-sex marriage in Hawaii.

Sad, you say? Well, it depends on what happens. The good news is that polls show only a slim majority of Hawaiians in favor of such an amendment. Since it won't go before voters until November 1998, pro-marriage forces have almost 18 months to sway public opinion. That may be considerably easier if the Hawaii supreme court legalizes same-sex marriage this year, gays start getting married, and the sky doesn't fall. And, prodded by the marriage debate, the legislature also passed a terrific domestic-partnership bill, the first statewide bill of its kind--proving, as Evan Wolfson, chief marriage attorney for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, says, that you don't get half a loaf by asking for half a loaf.

But the bad news is this: Most astute observers agree that the proposed antimarriage amendment was easily preventable. Unfortunately, we, as a movement and as a people, did almost nothing to prevent it. Perhaps because we seem more comfortable reacting to attacks than boldly advancing a positive, aggressive agenda, our leaders failed to lead. Our PACs failed to PAC. Our media failed to alert. Our vision failed. And as a result, if worse comes to worst, we may have snatched defeat from the jaws of almost certain victory.

That almost-certain victory was possible only because some people--primarily local Hawaiian activists as well as national-level activists at Lambda--did have vision. …

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