“We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization” - Franklin D Roosevelt
Looking back at 2010, ask yourself what do you think was the single most important news story of this year? That is exactly what the Associated Press asked 180 of the top U.S. editors and news directors in their annual poll. Without telling you what I think the single most important news story was of 2010, I will tell you that I believe that all 180 of these editors and news directors got it wrong. The reason I believe this is because from looking at their answers, what I really believe they answered was, what do you think the most “popular” news story was of 2010, and there is a vast difference between what was the most popular news story and what was the most important news story. Now don’t get me wrong, all of the stories that were chosen were news worthy stories and deserved the attention that they received. All of these stories had a vast impact on the world, the environment, and politics. They kept us interested, engaged us, angered us, and often shocked and sometimes awed us. But I still don’t believe that any of them were the most important. The winning story of this poll was also the story that lasted the longest, was probably the most disturbing, and coincidently generated the most news readership, the BP Gulf Oil Spill. I know what you are thinking, what could be more important than the Gulf Oil Spill. The sheer impact that this disaster has had and will continue to have on the environment, on the people and communities of the gulf coast and on generations to come is immeasurable. And the way that it was handled by both the government and by BP is inexcusable. This is clearly a disaster that since it happened once will certainly happen again. It is important, but never the less it is far from the most important story. It sold the most news papers, generated the most ad revenue, but it was not the most important. Some of the other stories that made the cut were:
- The Health Care Insurance overhaul - with legislation that paved the way for millions more Americans to have insurance coverage, the end to pre-existing conditions, extension of coverage for minors, extended drug benefits, but without the inclusion of a public option, in my opinion, did not go far enough.
- The Elections in November - Where the Republicans took the house and gained seats in the Senate.
- The Economy - with unemployment staying above 9%, foreclosures on the rise, home prices down, even though consumers were spending more.
- The Earthquake in Haiti - Human devastation and a corrupt government.
- The Tea Party movement – Oh PLEASE, don’t get me started.
- The Mine Rescue in Chile – It was incredible, emotional and great TV.
- Iraq - The ending of formal combat operations, but when isn’t Iraq a top news story?
- WikiLeaks – Hero or demon? I guess that’s a matter of perspective.
- Afghanistan – Again, when isn’t this a top news story. Each day it’s something different.
Each one of these stories that made the cut were all important, incredible, headline making news stories and deserve to be on this list, but the one story that is missing, and that while it might not have made the most headlines and sold the most newspapers, is far more significant than any of the stories mentioned. And that is because this story isn’t just about a disaster or an election, a rescue or the economy. This story is about the rights of people. This story is about a monumental leap in human decency. This is a story about correcting a wrong that regardless of politics or religion, was finally made right and brings our nation one step closer to ending legalized discrimination everywhere in this country. The story that is missing and should have been number one on that list is the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell from our U.S. Military.
If you’re not homosexual or not in the military don’t be so quick to think that this story doesn’t apply to you because it does. While this particular chapter of the history of civil rights in this county is focused on homosexuals, this is only the most recent chapter of the battle for equality for all people living in this country. Discrimination in America has affected African-Americans, Jews, Mexicans, Japanese , women, the handicapped, as well as homosexuals. This battle while currently focused on the wrongs being perpetrated against homosexuals is part of a long process of eradicating legalized discrimination against Americans from all walks of life. At one time African-Americans were legally separated from “white” Americans in our schools, at our drinking fountains, on the bus, and even in the voting booth. At one time women were restricted from voting because the law said that to vote you must own land, and most women did not. It was just two years ago that President Obama signed in to law the Lilly-Ledbetter Act that guaranteed woman equal pay in the work place. At one time it was legal for the handicapped to be denied entry in to buildings and even employment due to the barriers of curbs and stairs. At one time it was legal for Jews to be denied employment or membership in certain clubs for no other reason than they were Jews. At one time Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps for no other reason than they were of Japanese descent. And at one time openly gay individuals were denied entry into our armed forces simply because of their sexual orientation and were forced to pretend they were straight or face a military court marshal and dishonorable discharge, not unlike my wife’s grandmother who in world war two was forced to pretend she was Christian or face death at the hands of the Nazis. All of these injustices were once legal. While this story made the news for a day or two, it was not seen as meaningful of a story because today homosexuality is much more accepted then it was in the past. We see gays and lesbians on television all the time. It is no longer shocking to see people of the same sex kiss each other in sitcoms, dramas or movies. We have openly gay talk show hosts, politicians, and news commentators. And I believe that most of us expected DADT to eventually be overturned, but expecting it to be and it actually happening are two different things.
To help place things in perspective we need to realize exactly where we have come from on the issues related to the discrimination against homosexuals in America. As recent as 2003, nine states had laws on the books that made sodomy illegal, not only for homosexuals, but for anyone. That’s right, if a two people of the same or opposite sex wanted to have anal intercourse, in the privacy of their own home, it was against the law. Four additional states specifically directed those laws towards homosexuals. Exactly how they planned on enforcing those laws I am not really sure. Currently there are fifteen states that do not have any hate crime laws that include crimes involving sexual orientation or gender identity and there are five states that have no hate crime laws at all. As early as 2003 President Bush stated in a press conference that he was for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. In 2004 a Kansas court ruled that homosexuals having sex with a minor could receive harsher sentences than heterosexuals committing the same crime. These laws exist. These attitudes exist, and they are wrong. No one is ever going to be able to stop individuals from discriminating, or stop religious groups from thinking that homosexuality is a sickness that they can cure, because the real disease is ignorance. Ignorance, unlike homosexuality is learned and the cure comes from education, from exposure and from our government and its leaders sending the message that legally these discriminatory practices will not be tolerated. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important.”
The late Senator Edward Kennedy said during his speech at the funeral for his brother Robert:
“There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man. They reflect the imperfection of human justice, the inadequacy of human compassion, our lack of sensibility towards the suffering of our fellows. But we can perhaps remember -- even if only for a time -- that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek -- as we do -- nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
And to that I say, Amen.