In a year like no other, we are called upon to act. Who we vote for – and how – are deeply personal decisions. But the choices we make in the coming days will impact our communities for years to come. Ray Kirstein, our producer of State of Belief Radio, reflects on the progress we’ve made as an American abroad – and what’s at stake this November.
Since 2012, I have been producing State of Belief Radio for Interfaith Alliance while living in Germany. Exotic as that may sound, the original reason was pragmatic: as a foreign citizen, my then-boyfriend now-husband, couldn’t live in the United States without complicated – and degrading – restrictions connected to his working visa. It was the only way he could legally live with me while earning a living, and after five years of that kind of struggle, it seemed only fair to explore more dignified options. While a growing number of states were recognizing marriage equality, at the federal level no additional rights were being accrued.
We arrived in Germany calling ourselves “DOMA refugees,” a reference to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton, which restricted marriage for federal purposes to one man and one woman. Residency rules here were less draconian, higher education is free (I’m now married to a Doctor of Linguistics), and the influence of Religious Right culture wars far less powerful.
So what happened? Mere months after we got here, leaving behind friends and family, the Supreme Court struck down key parts of DOMA, clearing the way for immigration rights for same-sex spouses of US citizens. Ironic. But we had established ourselves here, and I had figured out this whole working remotely thing ten years before it was cool.
From overseas, we watched the remarkable progress of basic rights for LGBTQ+ Americans. We celebrated the ways in which so many people of faith worked to advance those rights, and the effort so many faith-driven activists devoted to the moral call for dignity and respect for marginalized communities, mine among them. And despite the growing culture-war attacks on these groups – including efforts to redefine religious liberty as a sword to discriminate, not a shield to protect – progress on LGBTQ+ equality seemed remarkably swift, even as other groups were being left behind.
But that was then. What I see now, gazing across the sea to a homeland I hardly recognize and cannot visit due to COVID, is a society paralyzed by officially-endorsed conflict and enraged by manufactured hostilities.
I don’t understand how many of my fellow Americans, happy at the progress they were seeing, complacently stepped away from the struggle for justice for all. A number of American LGBTQ+ acquaintances expressed disinterest in politics, and variously justified stepping away from participating in the electoral process. Particularly after the Obergefell decision in 2015 recognized marriage equality as protected by the Constitution, I detected a growing sense of “mission accomplished” – along with a general cynicism toward politics in general.
For those of us who believe in – and benefit from – basic fairness and equality, disengaging from politics isn’t an option.
Every step forward is a fundraising opportunity for those who would see my access to marriage as somehow devaluing their own. It’s clear now that assaults on LGBTQ+ progress are just the beginning, and many other vulnerable groups are targets as well. And a crude rewriting of our history to claim America was founded as a Christian nation, while superimposing a narrow set of authoritarian doctrines onto that fallacy, should not be allowed justify discrimination and bigotry.
This is an especially difficult year for voting. Creative obstacles abound to complement the natural ones. But despair must not overtake us as we prepare to take the action our democracy endows and demands of us: to vote for our values, our communities, and our future. Not just in spite of the difficulty in doing so: because of it.
Explore our Vote 2020 resources and make your voice heard.