Gains for equality
I'm a member of the 2001 Academic All-Star class, from Rector, Ark. I grew up on a family cotton farm in the Delta, worked as an architect/planner in Chicago and Washington, D.C., for six years after college, and am now wrapping up a master's degree in Environmental Management at Yale.
Even though I have lived away from Arkansas since 2001, I have diligently followed the Arkansas Times on Facebook. Your reporting always represents our state in a way that makes me very proud, and as a gay man, I have never been more proud of the Arkansas Times than I have been over the last several days. Growing up gay in the Delta was a difficult challenge for me, and there is a real catharsis in seeing the cover image and headline of this week's paper.
The times are changing, and it's hard not to feel very optimistic about our future. Thank you for all that you do for our state and for offering your progressive voice to the mix.
New Haven, Conn.
The Arkansas Supreme Court predictably stayed Piazza's ruling, effectively halting the further issuance of licenses to same-sex couples across the state immediately. The case is effectively moved forward in the appeals process that puts into question whether or not there will be a final ruling by the end of the year, much less prior to the election in November. But this brief opening of the equality window, in a state that has developed its reputation over decades as a backwards bastion of prejudice and intolerance, was extremely important in the natural evolution of this matter, both on a state and national level.
For the first time, Arkansans witnessed some of their friends, neighbors and co-workers rejoice in the opportunity to embrace equality after a lifetime of being denied it. Images of normal families — families that were in no way dissimilar to ones on every block of every neighborhood in each town, country and region across the state — were filling every broadcast and front page as the door of equality repeatedly opened and closed throughout the week in different county clerks' offices statewide. In many cases this newfound freedom to marry was enjoyed by couples that had spent decades in committed relationships that made up the majority of their earthly lives. Lives that were lived right here in Arkansas. Couples that entire communities had known and led their lives alongside. People who had never been afforded the dignity to express such things beyond hushed whispers behind closed doors or even left unspoken altogether. Young couples with children who every day go through the motions of life alongside everyone else and have problems and concerns as banal as any family living in the Natural State today.
And yet, as these groundbreaking unions legally came into being, and the light of tolerance and compassionate humanity shone brightly for the first time in our state, the world did not end. No one woke up to find their own marriage doomed as a result of some of their neighbors sharing their love between each other and friends. No communities were snatched into the depths of the earth through the gaping jaws of hell as retribution for allowing such unions to take place. All in all, it was a pretty normal week otherwise. And this is extremely important. The court of public opinion on same-sex marriage in Arkansas is still lagging the national trends. But that should not preclude a judge from ruling to strike down laws that he views personally as an infringement on the constitutional rights of a segment of Arkansas's population that has historically suffered marginalization, bigotry and vitriolic hate speech from others in their communities. Growing up LGBT in Arkansas is not a fun or easy task, and anyone you talk to can attest to that. However, this newfound expression of the freedom to marry raising its head, albeit briefly, across the Bible Belt for the very first time should not be overlooked. This is big, and people know it. It's worth remembering that historically Arkansan courts were ahead of state public opinion in matters of Arkansas state law on issues as varied as segregation, interracial marriage and discrimination. History has judged this, in hindsight through the lens of time, as favorable and just. Why should this issue be any different?
Although often forgotten, it is still legal for any LGBT person across the state of Arkansas to be fired from their job or discriminated against in their housing or community. And here there is no federal protection either ,and the state is nowhere near even considering such measures given the strict control of the newly elected Republican majorities of both houses of the state legislature and their vehement opposition to granting any perceived "special" rights to the LGBT minority. So at some point in the near future, a newly legal same-sex family in Arkansas could be broken apart by one or both parents losing their job, or by being thrown out of their house because their landlord simply doesn't like people like them. Until such point as a federal discrimination law is in place, Arkansas will most likely not press ahead on this front, regardless of public opinion.
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