Editorial: A great victory for gay rights and a possible path forward

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Lawrence got confirmation last week that it has been living on the right side of history — again.

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision ruled that people can’t face discrimination based on their sexual orientation. It did so 25 years after Lawrence city leaders already had made that determination.

A vote of the Lawrence City Commission in 1995 made it illegal to discriminate against gays, lesbians and others due to their sexual orientation. Lawrence became the first city in the state to adopt such a policy. The movement came to be known as Simply Equal, but its passage was anything but simple. There was much hand-wringing over the destruction or moral rot this change would invoke. Of course, that hasn’t been the case.

The Supreme Court last week seemingly determined what Lawrence officials determined a quarter of a century before: It is just to allow good, honest people to live their lives the way they want to live them, without fear of retribution.

That makes at least twice that Lawrence has been early to the party on such a revelation. Lawrence’s founding is owed to the fervent belief in the abolition of slavery. Lawrence residents should take great pride in having a history of being forward-thinking and respecting the great benefits of individual freedoms.

Of course, we should not make this into a congratulatory event for Lawrence. The real winners of last week are the millions of people in the LGBTQ community who now have significant legal protections anywhere they go in this country. The movement that has led to this change in American attitudes is impressive. It was never pre-ordained that Americans would change their thoughts on homosexuality in great numbers. It has been because of the work of many dedicated activists — and just ordinary people who happen to be gay — who have gradually but consistently reinforced the message that they are nothing more than good, honest people who want the freedom to live their lives without the fear of legalized discrimination.

Note the phrase “legalized discrimination.” The Supreme Court ruling won’t end discrimination any more than the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended racism. Not that we need any more reminders, but there is no weed with deeper roots than racism.

There will be plenty of day-to-day work, plenty of shifts in attitudes and opinions that must continue to happen before discrimination on either of those fronts wanes. That will be the case for a long time to come.

But that is true on so many matters. Each of us could look in the mirror and discover ways that we could be fairer and more understanding. As mentioned above, Lawrence has a well-deserved reputation as a progressive-minded community on some matters. But that doesn’t mean it is always tolerant on every front. Try being a conservative in Lawrence. At times, progressives here turn what simply should be the rejection of an idea into outright hostility.

We all have work to do, but thankfully this latest Supreme Court ruling shows that good work can pay off. Few expected a 6-3 Supreme Court decision on this issue. The fact that the opinion was written by conservative Neil Gorsuch was like a lightning bolt out of the blue.

Yes, it would have been better if Congress and the president simply would have passed a law adding sexual orientation as a class protected against discrimination. It would have been a stronger statement, as the legal wrangling of the Supreme Court was a bit tortured in this case.

The upside, though, is the ruling gives us the opportunity to ponder and appreciate the Gorsuch lightning bolt. It is important that a deeply conservative justice broke ranks from many in his philosophical circle. It is a reminder that the greatest of freedoms is freedom of thought. It only has any power, though, if it is exercised.

It is not often exercised because defying expectations often creates disappointment by those who surround you. It is amazing how some of us will tether ourselves to such predictability and conformity to avoid disappointment.

Of course, in the broad picture, that doesn’t work either. Such predictability and conformity ends up playing much like a bad movie. That has been American politics for many years now. It has been a real second-rate movie. Give credit to Gorsuch, just one small actor, for breaking typecast.

Surely, if America is to become a better place, we all must be willing to break typecast a little more often.


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