Monday, October 26, 2009

I wrote this...

... to Senator Jon Kyl, Senator John McCain, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords. (I toned it down somewhat for Ms. Giffords.) Thought y'all would like to see:

Dear Senator [insert name here; I’m going to write to both of them]:

I am a second-year law student at the U. of A. James E. Rogers College of law. I am a writer on Law Review; the president of the law school chapter of the ACLU; and among the top 10% in my class. I love the study of law and I love being a part of this wonderful school.

Two weeks ago, I was in Washington, D.C. with 200,000 other people marching for LGBT equality. I marched because the more I have studied the laws of this country, the more I have realized that LGBT people - like me and my wife - are excluded from a wide variety of protections.

For instance, in Evidence just a few weeks ago, I learned that married people cannot be compelled to testify against each other in court. This is, of course, a very minor example (and something I probably already knew if I had thought about it), but it highlighted unpleasantly yet another way my family is different from those of many of my classmates.

I should not even have to describe what Community Property class is like.

In my Persuasive Communication class, our writing project for this semester has to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am writing for the hypothetical plaintiff, and I found it very easy to point to provisions within the ADA to make my case. Although I am enjoying the project immensely, the subject is bittersweet. My hypothetical plaintiff has a legal remedy against the employment discrimination she experienced; when my wife was forced out of her job in response to her disclosures about her sexual orientation (which, given that we both worked at the same location, was difficult to hide), she had no remedy at all beyond very limited City of Tucson protections. Under those provisions, the maximum damages a plaintiff can get is $2000, which does not even begin to cover the legal fees that would have been involved had we pursued the matter.

I have been afraid to visit my parents since they moved to Alabama because I have read so many reports from that state of crimes against LGBT people that are not investigated, or that are perpetrated by law enforcement officers. I am sure these things happen in Arizona as well; however, I have not heard of as many incidents here, and Tucson, being as it is an island of liberalism, is very safe.

I write to you because I would like to see the vast inequalities between LGBT citizens and non-LGBT citizens remedied. We do not ask for “special rights” or anything that will harm this country as a whole. We want only the same rights that non-LGBT people take for granted, such as the right to the protections of marriage. We want to be able to work without fear of harassment or termination, protections that racial minorities, women, and people with disabilities have but that are denied to us. We want to be able to serve our country in the military without having to lie about who we are. These legislative changes would right a great wrong that has been perpetuated in the name of “tradition.”

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill that just passed was only a small step. There are several bills under consideration that would do far more for LGBT rights. The Senate has before it a fully-enclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The House is considering a bill to repeal DOMA that hopefully will pass and move along to the Senate. President Obama has indicated that he will soon push for a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which, while an improvement on the old military policy of actively rooting out lesbians and gay men from the ranks, still falls far short of anything like equality.

As a nominal libertarian, I understand concerns that legislating problems away for the most part does not work. I am all for keeping government small so that it intrudes on individual lives as little as possible. I am also all for allowing the democratic process to work as it will, voicing the will of the people.

However, there are times, as now, when the democratic process fails millions. Is it right to allow the knee-jerk reactions of the many to marginalize and trample the rights of the few? Is it right to allow injustice to continue and millions to live in fear simply because more legislation would violate some theoretical principle of the role of government, that has very little to do with reality? My reality is that, despite my education and prospects, I am a second-class citizen. I cannot rely on the courts to correct the injustices, as I naively thought when I first enrolled in law school. The courts are bound by precepts of law, and it is the law that is failing us now. The law must be changed, and you, the legislators, are the ones to change it.

The bills that would change my reality harm no one. They do not place any particular burden on the economy; in fact, by reducing fear and promoting inclusion of a vast number of people, they would help the economy. They do not force anyone to change their lives, beyond requiring that a few employers, service-men and –women, and law enforcement officers behave with civility. I realize that they are not a panacea. No mere legislation can change an entire culture. But it would be a start.

The attitudes in this country are changing; even many Republicans now support LGBT equality. Please support bills that would enable us to live as full citizens in the country we love.



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