It was a remarkable day in Arkansas yesterday for equality.
Grant Tennille, the director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, called for an end to Arkansas law that discriminates against gay people. Such laws are a disincentive to business development, he said. Of course. Just as racial discrimination set back Arkansas for years. Just as a reputation for denial of science, mistreatment of the disadvantaged and prejudices of every sort, including religious, send all the wrong sorts of signals to the diverse and thoughtful lot that make up the entrepreneurial class. Tennille was man of the hour yesterday, if not the year.
But then, too, there was Chad Griffin, the leader of the Human Rights Campaign, an eloquent and feverishly energetic Arkansas native who engineered the successful challenge of California's Prop. 8, even as some traditional supporters of gay rights were urging a go-slow legal strategy on the gay marriage ban. Griffin was all over town — at the Capitol with a poll on improving Arkansas attitudes, particularly among young people; at the Clinton school, and at an HRC reception last night at the Arts Center, where he was mobbed like a rock star by young LGBT Arkansans, who wanted pictures taken with a heroic figure.
In the course of these events, I learned of something I'd missed. It's an essay by Little Rock native Spencer Lucker, in the form of a letter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The UA and Clinton school grad now works in Washington. His article is one of those things that explains the sea change in support of sexual equality. It is so much harder to fear or hate people who live and breathe and have children and work alongside you. The brave people who stepped out of the shadows years ago — and the much larger numbers who do so now — are making all the difference. Times will change, even in Arkansas, if more people read such as what Lucker has written:
...I am also the son of two women.
I define myself by the pride I hold in my parents, the joy I have when thinking back on my childhood, and the love I received from my two mothers. At my core, I am the son of two wonderful, loving parents, no different from anyone else with two wonderful, loving parents.
These women recently celebrated 34 years of partnership: Partnership in life, love, and a son. My family is one of the estimated 594,000 same-sex-partner households in our country. We are a unique, vibrant group. But these couples don't receive full benefits from the law of this great land. They are not considered to be fully legitimate by our own government and do not have freedom of liberty that we Americans hold so dear.
Growing up in Little Rock, Ark., as the son of successful social workers was far from difficult, but growing up in the heart of the Bible Belt as the son of two gay women wasn't easy.
...Yes, I have two parents, neither of whom is a father. Beyond that, there's nothing different. When we transcend the social constructs of sexuality, the religious constructs of marriage, and the legal constructs of past social norms, we realize that homosexual men and women are just like heterosexual men and women, homosexual couples are just as loving and genuine as heterosexual couples, and homosexual parents are just as competent and caring as heterosexual parents.
In addressing his hopes for coming Supreme Court rulings, he said:
May our gay mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, family and friends, finally be seen legally as they are realistically: Just like everyone else. I hope that my meme will be the same as every father in this country in holding equal parental rights over her son. I hope my parents will be given the same rights as those who can visit their ailing spouse or child in the hospital. I hope that my parents will be able to claim sick leave if one of them falls ill.
And most importantly, I hope that my parents can finally have full and equal rights as gay women — the same as each and every man and woman in this country.
For although we are all different, in the eyes of the law, we should all be the same.
One lawsuit has been filed in state court challenging Arkansas de jure discrimination. At least one more lawsuit is expected soon in federal court. The people I met at the HRC reception last night — they included yet another Boys State alum who wanted to thank me for my annual remarks in support of gay rights when he attended in scared silence as product of a tiny Delta farming town and a Searcy woman who sent me the photo of the pizza joint sign that invoked the Biblical passage calling for death to homosexuals — want equality. They thirst for equality. There are those — staunch friends and supporters of gay rights — who'd counsel them to be patient. To bide their time on lawsuits that might lose in Arkansas. To move cautiously on petition drives that might fail. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed incremental strategy one famous day in Washington:
This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.
If not now, when?