The board of the Stonewall Democrats issued a statement last night putting a positive and conciliatory face on Gov. Mike Beebe's in-your-face appearance before the group recently. (He repudiated same-sex marriages and unions and, while claiming a personal belief in non-discrimination, showed no interest in correcting laws that allow such legal discrimination. He also suggested those who disagree with the discrimination he espoused needed to stop being so intolerant)
I wasn't in much of a mood to be tolerant enough to provide space for making nice with the governor. The most popular politician in Arkansas, he thrilled advocates of inequality all over Arkansas by validating their position. But I slept on it. The statement follows. In short, it says there are signs of progress for LGBT citizens, even if Mike Beebe isn't part of the progress. If the Stonewallers expect him to be different in the future, I'd urge them not to hold their breaths based on his recent performance.
Headlines never capture the whole story. They can’t. But the ones that recently summarized Gov. Mike Beebe as a defender of the Bible Belt’s conservative status quo missed a critical and compelling aspect: Progress in the fight for LGBT equality has and continues to be made in Arkansas and America.
That progress was signaled last month by Beebe’s historic appearance before the Stonewall Democrats, an official caucus of the Arkansas Democratic Party that advocates for LGBT rights. The event demonstrated that the gay community has a seat at the table in our state. From it, we successfully pushed for an anti-bullying law that includes protections based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, making Arkansas one of only 13 states with such a law. We successfully fought efforts to ban unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children. We successfully supported openly gay and gay- friendly individuals who have won elected office.
Progress is here, and it’s all around us. The Obama Administration no longer defends the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which further disintegrated last week when the Department of Justice stopped opposing joint bankruptcy petitions filed by same-sex married couples. New York just became the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage, thanks in part to the votes of four Republicans. The judicial system has ordered the Defense Department to stop enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Pentagon said last week it would comply.
Like our friends affiliated with the Log Cabin Republicans, who were instrumental in many of these happenings, the Stonewall Democrats of Arkansas will continue to work for change from inside our party with friends of all backgrounds by our side. Based on Beebe’s comments last month, legitimate opportunities exist for additional change in Arkansas right now. The governor opposes discrimination in the workplace based upon sexual orientation, yet protections do not exist in Arkansas like they do nearly half of the U.S. states. This is just one of the issues we intend to discuss with our party and in the governor’s office.
Some people disagree with us, but their numbers are dwindling. Polls show that for the first time, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. To think that further progress won’t be made in our state is akin to believing that one person’s public stance on an issue matters more than the American maxim that all are created equal, and that in the end, there is liberty and justice for all. No, Gov. Beebe did not pleasantly surprise us and say everything we wanted to hear last month. But in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.”