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Gains for Gays, and Society

August 07, 2003

A remarkable summer of advances for gay and lesbian rights in the United States reached another milestone Tuesday with the election of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as the next Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. He becomes the first openly gay bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church.

Leaving the complex, deep and divisive theological issues aside, the Episcopalians provided a commendable example of a reasoned and democratic selection process. Although there was a last-minute flurry of unseemly accusations against Robinson, overall his elevation was the result of hard work by a significant societal institution to recognize the value of the individual, in this case a 56-year-old, experienced cleric with a record of good labors for his church, two grown children and a stable, 13-year relationship with a man.

For gays and lesbians, it was one more leap following major decisions by two usually conservative bodies -- the U.S. and California supreme courts. On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling and struck down anti-sodomy laws. The majority opinion went well beyond the necessary legalities, stating that such discrimination against homosexuals was an affront to human dignity. The California Supreme Court on Monday affirmed the right of unmarried partners, including gays, to adopt children.

Although these all have been progressive, proper steps, there is a portion of the world that is more conservative and is uneasy about gays and their role in society. The Vatican last week condemned gay marriage and called on lawmakers to bar its legalization; President Bush, at a rare news conference, repeated his opposition to same-sex marriages. A recent USA Today poll showed some public backlash, with American attitudes turning less accepting of homosexuals and the prospect of gay marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court's anti-sodomy law ruling.

Still, the president and the Vatican both underscored their respect for gay individuals. Their qualms about change cannot and should not be construed as fodder for hate-mongering against homosexuals.

The struggle for gays and lesbians to be judged in civil society on their individual merits and the quality of their work will go on. It's good to see that a more thoughtful, temperate approach to these tough issues is prevailing.

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