UPDATE: Rev. Troy Perry writes another piece in support for 2012.
Guest blogger Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), guided MCC’s growth over 37 years to over 43,000 members. In 2005, he retired as moderator of MCC and now maintains an active speaking schedule addressing the history of the gay rights movement, HIV issues, and marriage equality.
I’ve been fighting publicly for the right of same-sex couples to marry since 1969, when I performed the same-sex wedding ceremony of a wonderful lesbian couple (the first one in the United States). The next year, we sued the state of California and got laughed out of court. We didn’t have the money to appeal, and so we had to end our legal fight then. But I’ve been involved with the moral fight ever since.
In 2003, I married my beloved partner Philip in Canada, and we filed another lawsuit against the State of California seeking the state's recognition of our marriage. This time, they weren’t laughing. As you all know, we—and all of us—won the court decision and the freedom to marry. And then tragically, last November, a small majority of Californians voted at the ballot box to take away our right to marry the person we love.
I have never been someone to stand by and wait. I believe in what Frederick Douglass so wisely said so many years ago, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” That’s why, when Anita Bryant launched her ugly campaign to take away anti-discrimination laws in 1977, I joined in the fight to stop her in Miami (sadly, we lost that one). And when State Senator John Briggs launched his campaign in 1978 to prevent gay people from working in California’s public schools, I launched a 16-day hunger strike to raise $100,000 to make sure we could fight. I would not, could not sit by while our rights were being taken from us.
With the Anita Bryant campaign and the Briggs Initiative, all the way to last year’s Prop 8 battle, we had no chance to decide when that fight would take place. Our opponents chose the date and our only choice was to sit back and lose, or to fight. This time it is different. We get to choose when we’re ready and then take it back to our opponents on our time frame.
Now I understand impatience. I am impatient to win our rights. I’ve been impatient for each of the 40-plus years I’ve been part of this battle. And I don’t want to have to wait one more day than we have to. But I do feel strongly that, since we get to choose when we go back to the ballot, we pick a time when we are ready, when our community is ready, and when we’ve convinced enough Californians to vote our way. That’s why I strongly support going back to the ballot in 2012.
Right now, we have lots of hard work in front of us. Three years of work, in my view. We need to tell our stories, all of us. We need to engage people who are not yet with us, and do so in a manner where they can hear our cry for our dignity. We must engage people’s hearts, call upon them to find their better selves, help them realize that we truly are all in this together. We need to engage the African-American and Latino communities in respectful, persuasive ways. This work takes time.
I can also tell you that, in these difficult economic times, many in our community are suffering mightily. Our state government has decimated HIV/AIDS programs, and our service providers are struggling to stay afloat and provide critical services. In these times, I think we must respect our large LGBT donors who are supporting that work and then all get behind a ballot fight once we have done the work we need to do.
Most importantly, we need to remember that we are all in this fight together. Too often, we turn our anger at one another instead of at those at whom we are truly upset. If we can treat one another with grace and respect, and do the hard work we must, I know that we will win our rights back, once and for all. After 40 years, this battle is coming to an end. It is within our grasp. Now let’s go out and seize it.
With great respect,
Rev. Troy Perry