November 2, 2004

2004 election issues of gay Americans

We all know that the results of the upcoming election will affect our lives for the next four years and beyond. This is especially true for members of the queer community. While gay marriage has been a high profile campaign issue and the Federal Marriage Amendment has received a lot of press attention, there are many more issues up for grabs that will affect the lives of queer people in this country. Here are some of the most important ones:

• Gays in the military. In the United States military, soldiers can still be discharged for being homosexual or engaging in homosexual behavior. The infamous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been in place since the early Clinton years. This policy has been taking a lot of heat from gay rights and civil liberties groups around the country. Depending on the outcome of this election, it may become possible for queer Americans to proudly and openly serve their country.

• Employment non-discrimination. In the state of Illinois, with the exception of Cook County, it is still possible for employers to fire employees because of their sexual orientation. Legislation to add sexual orientation to current employment non-discrimination laws has been bottled up in the state government for over a decade. The situation is fairly similar on the national level and in most other states. As these non-discrimination bills work their way through the bureaucracy, it is essential to have lawmakers in place who oppose discrimination against queer people.

• Gay adoption. Many states have laws prohibiting homosexuals from adopting children or serving as temporary foster parents. The rational for these laws can vary from claims that growing up with gay parents will make the children gay to claims that gay adoption promotes incest. In actuality, the gay couples that want to adopt children are just as capable of raising these children, as any straight couples are. In a time when states are desperately trying to find homes for foster children, it is horrible that loving couples are being denied the opportunity to take those children in simply because the couples are of the same sex.

• HIV and AIDS. HIV is on the rise in the United States and around the world. To successfully combat this global pandemic it is important to have politicians who will develop programs to fight the disease and then follow through with funding for these programs. In the age of faith-based initiatives and abstinence-only education, HIV and AIDS programs for the queer community have suffered. In the next four years, this must change.

• Hate crimes. After the historic Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v. Texas, hate crimes against people perceived as queer sharply increased. Currently several states and the U.S. Congress are considering adding sexual orientation to existing categories protected under hate crimes laws. These essential protections of queer people must be guaranteed because as queer people continue their movement toward full equality, many more spikes in hate crimes can be expected.

• The Supreme Court. Marriage equality laws and lawsuits around the country are growing in number and in scope. This is an issue on which the Supreme Court is going to have to issue powerful decisions that will affect the next generation of the gay rights movement. Also in the next four years, up to four justices of the Supreme Court are expected to consider stepping down. It is essential for the queer community that the replacements for these justices do not bring a strong anti-gay bias to the bench. In this election, it is essential that the President, who appoints the Justices, and the Senate, which confirms the appointments, fill the Supreme Court with open minded and fair Justices.

Marriage and civil unions are the issue we've all an earful and a half on in the campaigns. These issues, and the Federal Marriage Amendment, also matter a lot for the queer community. Marriage automatically gives couples over 100 legal protections, rights and responsibilities. A Federal Marriage Amendment not only would prevent gay couples from ever getting those rights, it also threatens domestic partner and civil union laws and benefits around the country.

As we head into this election, it is important for all of us to consider how the outcome on all levels will affect others around us. We ask you all to look into the candidates and consider what their election would mean for your queer friends, family members, and fellow students. The Human Rights Campaign website (www.hrc.org) has many useful resources to research candidates' stances on these issues and more detailed information on the issues themselves.