A big step forward for LGBT legal rights

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It will take the great wheels of history grinding forward to recognize the momentous significance of Thursday's final passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act ["Senate passes measure that would protect gays," news story, Oct. 23].

It is a watershed moment in the history of our nation. For the first time, Congress passed a law that acknowledges that gay people are citizens. We are far behind many other Western nations in our progress toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. But this week, a great wall cracked open slightly and for the first time some legal light peeked through.

With this modest beginning we have finally broken through the barrier with the simple recognition that gay Americans are Americans worthy of the same protections and responsibilities as any other citizen. Once again our nation did that noble thing it does from time to time: overcame fear and bias in favor of justice. And, next week when President Obama signs this bill into law, it will be the first step on the national path toward full legal equality for LGBT citizens. No doubt other basic laws such as prohibiting employment discrimination and the ability to serve in our nation's military will follow. Hallelujah.

Elizabeth Birch, Washington

The writer was executive director of Human Rights Campaign from 1995 to 2004.

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