Editorial: The easy bigotry of inaction
Discrimination against gays continues with the silent consent of Virginians.
Thomas Jefferson, that greatest of Virginians, once explained an essential ideal of freedom. "All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression," he said.
The American story has been a long, hard struggle away from the oppression Jefferson noted. Yet it persists today. It persists in Jefferson's beloved commonwealth as the majority denies Virginia's gay, lesbian and bisexual residents equality.
The overt oppression of the majority manifested most plainly a few years ago when voters wrote discrimination into the commonwealth's constitution. They forbade the state from granting or recognizing same-sex marriages.
More pernicious is the easy bigotry of inaction. Because most people are unaffected by laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians, they perceive no pressing need to fix them. They allow Virginia's leaders to eschew change in favor of comfortable discrimination wrapped in notions of tradition and faith.
When Gov. Bob McDonnell declines to issue an executive order forbidding discrimination in state hiring and when, on the questionable legal advice of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, he halts a plan to provide benefits to same-sex partners of state workers, it diminishes us all.
Nor will the General Assembly likely stand for equality. The Democratic-controlled Senate might pass a bill to add sexual orientation back to the list of protected classes in public employment*. The Republican-controlled House will kill it and any other bill friendly to gays, as it has in the past.
Discrimination flourishes when good Virginians stand by and pretend the problem is not theirs. As Jefferson noted on another occasion, "What is true of every member of the society, individually, is true of them all collectively; since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals."
Our nation and our commonwealth would be so much the worse if our predecessors had not challenged the complacency that allowed discrimination against other groups to survive.
Virginians are capable of so much better. They could embrace Jefferson's sacred principle. That would require courage, understanding and a willingness to accept that some things the minority does will strike the majority as strange, even disturbing. Yet if we are to be rightful and reasonable, we must grant equal rights and equal protection under the law.
*SB66 did pass in the Virginia Senate this week.
AARP Pride Information and Resources for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People, Families and Allies - AARP