Wednesday, May 29, 2013
SC Equality is both an organization and a principle. And we in South Carolina need to get on the right side of history and support both.
First, the organization. Started 10 years ago, SC Equality has a simple but powerful vision: a South Carolina where everyone is equal. Their mission is to secure equal civil and human rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation. Their work is both charitable and educational, and they focus on advocacy and legislation on both the state and local level.
Just recently they achieved a major milestone with the introduction in the state legislature of The Workplace Fairness Act (H.4025). The bill was introduced by Rep. James Smith of Columbia and co-sponsored by five Democratic legislators. This bill ensures equal protection in employment across South Carolina by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to existing employment protection laws. That’s it. That’s all it does.
There are some who would say this is a radical concept – others believe that it simply takes a needed next step toward ending discrimination. Today in South Carolina one can be fired from their job simply because they are gay or have other sexual orientation. It’s not about what anyone does, just about who they are.
Polls have shown that 89 percent of Americans support equal rights in the workplace. The City of Charleston, Columbia and Richland County currently have such laws.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have similar laws. Dozens of national companies operating in our state have such corporate polices including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Computer Science Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, Honeywell International, IBM, UPS, FedEx, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chevron, ATT, Home Depot, Target, Walgreens, Sears, Best Buy, Pepsi, to name just a few.
Now, the principle.
Though it is not a part of this bill, the ultimate question of gender equality is marriage equality or same sex marriage. In the last few days, Delaware became the eleventh state to pass a marriage equality law and the US Supreme Court will soon rule on the issue.
Polls show that South Carolinians by a significant margin do not currently support same sex marriage, but if support for “civil unions” is included 54 percent do support equality for same sex couples.
For many in our state, this is a very difficult issue. But our attitudes and opinions, as a state and a nation, are “evolving” on this issue…and evolving quickly toward support of marriage equality. Only recently did President Obama’s position evolve to support.
I am confident in saying that one day marriage equality will be the law of the land. And we as South Carolinians should move to get on the right side of history and support marriage equality.
Marriage equality does not mean that any church or clergy will be compelled to sanction a same sex marriage. And for those who say that marriage equality is a personal threat, in the words of a Delaware supporter, “If my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, then you need to work on your marriage.”
The struggle for sexual equality is often compared to the civil rights movement, and our state’s history with civil rights is instructive. The impetus for civil rights came both from within our state and without. Many fought it to the end; some are still fighting it. But we as a state were noted for our relatively peaceful acceptance of civil rights. We were not a Mississippi or Alabama, where there was widespread violence, bloodshed and numerous resulting deaths – the Orangeburg Massacre excepted.
I am not so naive to expect that the South Carolina Legislature – the same folks that are currently busy passing nullification legislation – are likely to pass gender equality any time soon, or even take the baby step of passing H 4025.
But they should. We as a state should get on the right side of history.
However, we as the people of this state can make our own personal choice. We can decide in our own hearts and minds that we will support equality and do our part to advance the cause. We can study the issue; we can talk with our friends, neighbors and clergy; we can contact our legislators or simply go to SCEquality.org and leave an email address to keep up with what is happening in our state. If you want to do more, there will be many opportunities to show your support.
Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware said it best when he signed legislation to enact marriage equality: “Delaware should be, is and will be, a welcoming place to live, love and raise a family for all who call our great state home.”
It’s time for us, as individuals and as a state, to do the same – and to get on the right side of history.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley.