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Civil unions give same-sex couples "only half a loaf" because they are still denied many federal rights and the title of marriage, Occidental College professor and LGBT advocate Ron Buckmire told a nearly empty Salomon 101 Thursday night.

About 20 people gathered to hear a panel of advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community discuss race, sexuality, religion and same-sex marriage. Roger Williams School of Law Professor Courtney Cahill, Washington Consulting Group advocate Reverend Jamie Washington and Buckmire comprised the panel. 

The panel discussion centered around California's Proposition 8, which declared, "Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Supporters of the proposition spent about $40 million on their campaign to galvanize support for the amendment, Buckmire said, and LGBT rights activists spent $43 million to discourage the proposition. It passed with a 57 percent majority in November 2008.

About 70 percent of African-American voters voted to pass Proposition 8, Buckmire said. "This oppositional framework leaves out people who happen to be members of both groups," said Buckmire, who called himself a "black gay."

"Black LGBT people were marginalized by both aspects of their identity," he said.
Cahill discussed the media's presentation of Proposition 8, saying it portrayed the proposition's success as "some combination of Mormon money and racial homophobia."

From her "YouTube research," Cahill did not find rhetoric criticizing homosexuals in the media, she said. Instead, the proposition was portrayed as preserving "the right of the people to define marriage as they see fit," she said. But Cahill said she also questioned whether or not this excuse was just masking "disgust for gays" and presenting a more "constitutionally permissible" excuse for passing the amendment.

Washington provided some background on the interplay of racial and religious identity in the gay marriage issue. "We have historically had gays and lesbians be white" and not affiliated with any religion, he said. "That dynamic is still alive and well today." 

The moderator's first question for the panel was, "What do you see as the best way to go forward now?" Buckmire answered, saying that the same-sex marriage issue is not "winnable unless there is majority support for marriage equality." He said that most states allow for civil unions, which provide many of the rights that a marriage license carries.
But still, one class can get married and one can only get a civil union, he said. "We've done that before," he said, "and it's called separate but not equal."

Cahill added that even though civil unions provide many of the same opportunities as marriage for homosexual couples, several federal rights are missing. 

"I can't get to the word ‘marriage,' " Washington said of his discussions with people opposing same-sex marriage. "I'm finding that what's under marriage is God's approval," he said, summarizing the sentiments of those against same-sex marriage as, "If I say that I approve your marriage, I'm saying that God is approving your relationship the way he approves my relationship."

 "See me as human," Washington said in response. "See my relationship as human and as valid as yours."

Cahill suggested that the issue of same-sex marriage should be resolved legislatively, not by the courts. Lending a legal perspective, she said, "We have to keep this conversation going ... and it has to be multitextural."

Advocates have "put too much reliance on the courts to solve the issue," she said, adding that "we've given it over to the courts and don't really have it ourselves." 

A student from the audience asked about how to educate children about homosexuality without parents thinking their children will become gay. 

"Every social change issue has had to have its fires," Washington said. "If we think we'll move this along without that, we are sorely mistaken."

Buck said that intolerance — including the assumption that learning about homosexuality will make people gay — is due to a lack of education. "What if everyone was gay? Well, we'd all dress better," he said. "But it's not going to happen," he added, emphasizing that homosexuality is not learned.

The panel ended by reminding the audience that the issue will only be solved if it is talked about.  People need to get "under the issue" and try to understand each other, Washington said.

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