"I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened." (President John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights Address, June 11, 1963.)
President Kennedy was speaking about calling out the National Guard to allow three black people to enter the campus of the University of Alabama peacefully to begin their collegiate careers. I dare you to read the entire document and not shake your head in disbelief that Kennedy had to get on national television and argue his case for the equal rights of black American citizens. This speech took place just about 46 years ago! Unbelievable, right? Not for me.
February is Black History Month, a time of reflection and education that is very much needed to remind Americans of just how barbaric we have been as a people. I am proud to be an American, but I think our grandchildren will look back at this time with the same disbelief that we feel when we read the Civil Rights Address of 1963. What am I talking about? The LGBT civil rights movement of course, and the people who are trying to stand in its way.
I am in the middle of doing my taxes right now, and today I got mad as hell. There are about 1,000 different rights that my wife and I are not allowed under the Federal Tax Code.
One of the first questions Turbo Tax asks is if you are married? I am married! Legally married in California! But if I check the married box and submit that document, I could face criminal prosecution!
I pay hundreds of dollars more because I am not allowed the same rights under the law as heterosexual married people. I felt like pulling a Peter Finch and running to open the window of my office, leaning out, and shouting, "I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore!"
I voted for Barack Obama and I am angry at him too. His decision to talk about wanting to end "Don’t ask, don’t tell" the other night in his State of the Union address does not appease me. It takes a year for us to investigate and figure out that this is wrong? That is not even my biggest beef with Obama. My main issue is that I know he is a brilliant United States Constitution scholar. He is a former constitutional law professor, for crap’s sake. And I say the time is right for President Obama to schedule a speech on national television to talk about what the Constitution says about equal rights for all. I will gladly write it for him.
President Obama should look into the TV cameras and this should be his opening paragraph:
"My fellow Americans, good evening. I come to you tonight, much like President Kennedy did on the evening of June 11, 1963. There is a grave injustice being perpetrated daily on millions of Americans, and tonight it stops. I cannot go one day further pretending that the beloved United States Constitution does not stand for the rights of all Americans. The discrimination that gay Americans face in many facets of their daily life is a disgrace to this great country.
"’All men are created equal, and the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.’ Those were the words of President Kennedy on that long ago fateful night, and I choose to repeat them again here. I cannot and will not have the United States continue to ignore the 14th Amendment rights of gay Americans regarding equal protection under the law. I say this here tonight because I truly believe that all of us are diminished if this practice of injustice continues for one more day." OK, I am stepping off the soapbox for today. I know there are a couple of you that wish I would trip and break my neck. For the rest of you, remember, you know me. I am your relative; I am your neighbor; I am your lawyer. I am you. Don’t diminish yourself. •
Julya Billhymer is a former police officer now working as an attorney. She lives in Fort Worth, and writes regularly at Dyke in the Heart of Texas (DykeInTheHeartOfTexas.com.)
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 5, 2010.