'Stop The Gay Agenda!'

It's a popular protest sign; one that has been lampooned across the Internet. My favorite take-off on it reads:

'The Gay Agenda:

Get Equal Rights:

Destroy Traditional Marriage:

Buy Milk'

America the beautiful, land of the free and home of the brave, has in its past come to terms with some ugly truths about itself.

This nation has faced a mirrored reality that in no way resembles the American Dream we were all raised to expect. We have looked in a mirror and learned that we are racist. We are sexist. We were able to look at our neighbors, notice that they are different, and justify in our minds that these neighbors are not human beings - not like we are. They are less than, and as less-thans our precious 'rights' do not apply to them.

After all, women were seen as too feeble-minded to own property -even physicians said so - and we enshrined into the very basic bedrock of our legal foundation the idea that if you were not white, you were only a partial human being.

It wasn't until we'd been a nation nearly a century that in the midst of a violent civil war we began to address the idea that people were not property, and it took another century beyond that for us to look into the mirror of history and see our laws, our behavior, our national standards for the monsters that they were. Fifty years after we abolished Jim Crow and integrated schools, our society is still struggling to find equity for most of its citizens. We have learned that the physical attributes of gender and color do not devalue a person's humanity. Or at the very least we have learned that it is socially unacceptable to behave as though they do.

Yet when the president of the United States stands up and says that all human beings deserve the right to pursue happiness by marrying and loving and living with the person they choose, we cringe and scream and fight.

All human beings are equal.

All American citizens have rights promised to them through our constitution.

All human beings, that is, who are heterosexual.

You are human and deserve full rights. If.

If I agree with your sexual choices. If I decide that you deserve them. You get to be human if you are human like me.

Compare homosexual rights with racism and sexism, and the argument that you will get is that it is not the same. That this discrimination is based on behavior, not outward appearance, and thus it is not discrimination. In one respect they are right.

They are not discriminating against people because of the way they look. But discrimination is discrimination no matter how you choose to mask its ugly flavor. Many in 1968 believed that Martin Luther King Jr. deserved the bullet that shattered his life because he was 'destroying America' and 'going against natural law.'

Today Martin Luther King Jr. is rightfully an American hero - one of our greatest protagonists and nation's teachers. He stood up, along with Rosa Parks and a million other unsung heroes, to declare that humanity meant more than the color of your skin. Being human was not defined by the way one looked on the outside.

Today a million unsung heroes are standing up to churches, politicians, neighbors, friends and families to say that being human is not defined by who you love or who you want to marry.

It is time, they say, for 'being human' to include everyone who is human. Even if those 'humans' don't look or dress or even act like you look or dress or act. Being human, they say, means that everyone deserves equal rights. Not just the 'right' people or the 'holy' people or the 'people who look and act like you.'

That mock protest sign, placing 'buy milk' on the 'gay agenda,' pulls out the irony of this debate. In a pleading and yet frank voice it says 'Hey, we're people too. We have car problems and problem children and long days at work and grocery lists.'

'What we don't have is what you take for granted. The right to marry the loves of our lives. The right to really be people the same way you are people.'

It took more than 200 years from their inceptions for the debates on racism and sexism to even be considered debates. To this day there are still people who think that Jim Crow should never have been abolished. Fifty years from now there no doubt will be people who believe gay marriage should never have been legalized. History will not favor them. Neither should we today.

Callie Vandewiele, a community volunteer in Estacada, grew up in Eagle Creek and now lives in Southeast Portland.

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