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Greater tolerance and equal rights

Updated: 2012-05-12 08:02
By Chen Weihua ( China Daily)

Greater tolerance and equal rights

Greater tolerance and equal rights

US Vice-President Joe Biden's remark on Sunday that he felt "absolutely comfortable" with letting gays and lesbians marry, led to President Barack Obama announcing that he supported same-sex marriages on Wednesday.

Hopefully, Obama too now feels "comfortable" after he told ABC News on Wednesday that he thinks same-sex couples should be able to get married.

Although he said he would have preferred to make his views known "in my own way, on my own terms without, I think, there being a lot of notice".

Obama had been dodging the question since he became president, by saying that his view on the issue was "evolving".

It's no secret that the gay and lesbian community is among the sources of funds for his re-election campaign and has long been disappointed by his ambiguity.

It's also no secret that worry over the possible loss of voters was the reason he had tried to dodge the issue. In fact, the people running Obama's campaign are probably still trying to calculate the fallout of his statement on Wednesday.

But for a person who claims to have integrity and principle, nothing should be more important than to be truthful to himself and to tell what he really believes. This is what should make Obama feel so good and proud about his statement.

So far most US states still prohibit same-sex marriages. The latest was North Carolina where people in large numbers voted on Tuesday in favor of a constitutional amendment, which bans same-sex marriage as well as civil unions.

By coincidence, Obama's Wednesday announcement came just a few hours after I watched a YouTube video calling for equal gay rights. Titled "It could happen to you," the video tells a tragic story of a young gay man Shane whose life was torn apart due to family and social discrimination. His partner, Tom, finally jumped from a rooftop and killed himself.

Yet all over the United States, support for gay marriage has been rising. Same-sex marriage has become legal in six US states and the District of Columbia. It will become effective in the state of Washington on June 7 and Maryland at the beginning of next year.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted last month shows that 47 percent favor legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples while 43 percent are opposed. That compares to 2004 when 31 percent were in favor and almost 60 percent were opposed.

Earlier Pew surveys also show that support for gay marriages is a generational thing - the younger the group, the more support.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been championing gay equal rights. And in the pride parade last year, Bloomberg, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and other local leaders and celebrities marched down Fifth Avenue with thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

I don't think any Obama supporters should change their votes because of his Wednesday statement. While they may disagree on gay marriage issue, they should also celebrate that they have an honest leader. And honesty should be rewarded, not punished.

Watching this new chapter of equal rights unfolding in the US, I cannot help thinking of the millions of gays and lesbians in China, most of whom could still be facing prejudice from their families and society.

The first Shanghai Pride Festival in 2009 was a positive step forward, but public support has still been lacking for such events and campaigns.

While the country is clearly not yet ready for same-sex marriages, life for China's homosexuals has improved markedly since homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997 and removed from the official list of psychological disorders in 2002.

But, unlike the US, there are still no laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. There is still much that needs to be done to make society inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The author, based in New York, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 05/12/2012 page5)