Equal Rights for All Should Mean All

The ink was barely dry on the Massachusetts State Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision, and the Republican Party was trying to use it as an election year issue to divide Americans. But this issue should not be a polarizing one. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t treat all Americans equally no matter what their race, religion or sexual orientation. That’s why I welcomed the Massachusetts court decision with open arms.

I remember a conversation I had with a fellow Army officer a few months ago. He hadn’t thought through my position supporting equal rights for gays. I asked him, “If you had a gay child, would you love that child as much as your other children?” And he said, “Yes, of course.” And I asked if he would want his child to have the same rights and opportunities as every other child. And again he said, “Yes, of course.” When we look at it in human terms, we recognize that this issue is about how we want our children to be treated. In America, every child should be equal in the eyes of the law, period.

Throughout the course of American history, too many groups have struggled for equal rights and opportunities. Growing up in Little Rock in the 1950s, I saw first-hand how wrenching the fight for civil rights was. In fact, I went to school for a year in Tennessee because they had closed the schools in Little Rock.

In too many ways, the struggle for equal rights is still on-going. Today, one of the frontlines in the civil rights struggle runs through the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. We must always stand by the principle: every American should enjoy the exact same rights as every other American.

The right wing says that the LGBT community wants special rights. But that is not true. Gay Americans want the same rights that all Americans enjoy – rights to form personal, legal relationships that confer benefits and obligations. It is high time for the LGBT community to enjoy these rights as well.

The American people are fair-minded. They understand that two people who have been together for twenty-five years should be able to visit each other in a hospital. They understand that couples should be able to leave property to one another without crippling tax consequences. And they also know that the legal status of gays and lesbians has nothing to do with “protecting” traditional marriage.

Whether we call civil unions “marriage” is a decision best left to churches and state legislatures. The concept of marriage has always been thought of as a union between a man and a woman. Such deeply embedded traditions are not easily changed. As we debate and discuss this issue, we must be mindful that people of good will can disagree without demonizing each other.

This is why we need new leadership in Washington, leadership that will bring us together.

I know my position will not make everyone happy. I am sure some will think I go too far and others will argue that I do not go far enough. But I can assure the LGBT community that my heart is open to them and to their concerns. And when I am president, my door will always be open, too.

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Former General Wesley Clark of Arkansas was Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1997 to 2000 and led NATO forces in Kosovo in 1999. He is now a Democratic presidential candidate.

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