The Political Is Personal

I bet that not a single gay marriage opponent would have cried if equal marriage had triumphed in New York last week.

They would have been angry, sure. They would have moaned about the "demise" of the traditional family.

Perhaps they would have even been afraid.

But sad to the point of tears? No.

That's because marriage equality is not personal for them. Not in the way it's personal for us.

Last week there were plenty of tears from those in Times Square protesting the New York Senate's vote against our families, and plenty of anger in Union Square the next evening. I wound up crying into my partner's coat while she held the umbrella over both of us, shielding us from the rain.

Christine Quinn - New York City Council Speaker, open lesbian and equal marriage advocate - cried, too. Tearing up, she said in a press conference, "What I care about is my life isn't any better today."

As I'm writing this, a decision hasn't been made yet in New Jersey. Though I hope for a positive outcome, I'm preparing myself for the opposite.

The people over at the National Organization for Marriage, of course, think equal marriage is personal. That's why they're fighting so hard to keep us from marrying. I've met Maggie Gallagher, NOM's president, and she told me that she had her first child out of wedlock when she was at Yale. The father didn't stick around and didn't marry her- and basically, it seems to me that it became her life's work to find out why.

Her research into marriage and strong marriages and why people get married at all has somehow been perverted into fighting against marriages she doesn't like. She seems to feel that gay people are so icky and young men are so against the idea of marriage that if gay people can get married then young straight men will decide that marriage is even grosser than they originally thought.

This is clearly not the case. Marriage is not a fashion trend. Sure, a young man might not want the same pair of sneakers his grandmother wears - he might not even want to buy something he considers to be a gay sneaker (honestly, I have no idea what that would be. This is just an analogy.) - but whether he likes gay people or not won't deter him from buying into marriage.

People don't decide against marriage because they don't like the kinds of people who get married. They decide against marriage because they think it's patriarchal, or because they feel like they don't have enough money to help support someone, or because they simply don't like the person they're dating enough to marry them

On the other hand, there are people who are so invested in marriage that we will attend protest after protest and write letter after letter just to win the right to marry.

Those people are us.

We will not be deterred from marriage by recent losses in Maine and New York. We will not be deterred by the opposition's strategy to paint us as a bad influence on children.

And we will not be deterred from marriage just because people who disgust us - for example, those who run the National Organization for Marriage, socially conservative Republicans and hypocritical religious leaders - also get married.

For us, this is personal. We want to marry the people we love. And because it is this personal - because we cry every time we lose - we will keep fighting until we win.

Adam Lambert’s Hypocrisy

Yes, Adam Lambert. You're right.

Hiphop artists and women get away with salacious performances all the time without an uproar. Of course, there was that famous Madonna-and-Britney kiss that caused a stir, but that was likely because the artists were - well, Madonna and Britney.

And yes, Adam Lambert, your performance on ABC's American Music Awards this week was not really all that raunchy. A kiss is a kiss, and there's nothing wrong with that. I could have done without you sticking a guy's head in your crotch spontaneously, but it happened so quickly, and in the midst of so many other things, that if the dancer didn't mind, I'm not sure "offensive" is what I'd call it.

What I'd call it, instead, is misguided.

Here's my problem.

You told Out magazine that you didn't make a big deal out of your sexual orientation during American Idol once pictures of you kissing a man had been exposed because: "I don't understand why it has to be about my sexuality. I'm just not going to talk about it one way or another. . . . And then when those pictures came out, I was like, you know what? I thought maybe I'll just own it and say, 'Yeah, I'm gay.' But I didn't want to label myself."

That's interesting, Adam Lambert. When you were worried about winning a contest, you didn't want to openly attest to being gay. (And, in fact, your people were worried that you would seem "too gay" on Out's cover.) BUT, when you wanted to make a splash in public, when you wanted to get noticed - suddenly you were all about gay sexuality.

And so my problem is with the timing.

You see, Adam Lambert, you may say that "I'm not trying to lead the fucking way for the civil rights movement that we're in right now," but the fact is that we ARE in a struggle for our civil rights and you are a pop culture figure (thanks in no small part to the support of gays and gay allies.)

We are in a dangerous moment. Our political allies are quickly backing away from us, thanks to losses on gay marriage in California and Maine and the Democratic loss of the governorship in New Jersey.

Whereas just over a year ago it seemed like gay marriage was an inevitable wave sweeping the country - and a tsunami in New England, New Jersey and New York - now it feels like the tide has turned. The hate crimes bill victory was followed by a vicious hate crime in Puerto Rico. We have hearings on ENDA, which could go either way. We have Don't Ask, Don't Tell hearings which are being put off until 2010. We have a President who isn't sure he is our friend.

And what is the mainstream most worried about, Adam Lambert? Why are they afraid of our partnerships, our service to our country, our working lives, our families? They are worried because they think gay life is exactly what you portrayed on the American Music Awards: focused on the kind of sex that turns people into animals (almost literally, in this case, with crawling dancers leading you on leashes), geared toward enticing children (ABC is a network owned by Disney, for heaven's sake), degrading, rapacious, empty.

This is why mainstream America votes against gays, Adam Lambert. Not because of people who have families and jobs and bills and weddings. Because of people like you, who use sexuality thoughtlessly in order to advance your own agenda, instead of thinking about the very real consequences your actions will have on others' civil rights.

If you were a private citizen, this wouldn't matter. But you are not. You are able to be openly gay thanks to people who did, in fact, make it their life's work to "lead the fucking way for the civil rights movement." You dishonor them - and you hurt us - by pretending otherwise.

A Window Slams Shut

I came out in the 1990s at the tail of the glory days of gay culture. There were gay bookstores then in most major cities, and a mix of gay social clubs, where you could gather to bowl, two step, play cards or organize for LGBT rights.

Most important, there was a gay paper in every city that could sustain one.

At the time, the mainstream media didn't cover gay issues often or well. The New York Times called us homosexuals and didn't cover our unions in their social pages. It was tough to find articles about our rights that didn't have an obligatory quote from a religious conservative explaining that being gay is immoral, wrong and in many places illegal.

Before the internet, the gay press was the only place where you could find reliable, objective information about LGBT issues. It was the only place you could learn about vigils, bars specials, group gatherings, protests.

And now it is disappearing.

The demise this week of the Washington Blade (40 years old), Southern Voice (20 years) and other publications owned by Window Media hit me hard. Like many young gay writers who came out in the 80s and 90s, my first job was at a gay paper. I learned how to interview politicians, how to report on events, how to copy edit and assign stories and crop photos and layout pages. And I gathered deep knowledge about gay and lesbian history, icons, politics, culture.

Gay papers are our community's treasure. The stories there are more local and gay-specific than the mainstream media, more reflective and better reported than what often appears on the internet. Gay reporters who work at gay papers take politicians to task and hold them to their promises. And gay papers themselves - since they are staffed by a small group not by individuals working remotely - pass along knowledge, skills and expertise to the next generation of gay reporters.

Blogs are wonderful, of course. We all read them. They can disseminate a lot of information quickly. But they also get things wrong; and in the constant churn of information, important stories - stories that dominate front pages for a week - can be lost under other, less significant posts.

And don't forget that few blogs actually report news - most only link to and comment on news that has already been reported by other sites.

Newspapers as a class are being killed by many things besides blogs. The rise of free and convenient information and news on the web. The loss of classified advertising to sites like Craigslist. The expense of paper.

And the gay press is further hurt by the rise of gay reporting in the mainstream media.

But don't be fooled. Just like chain bookstores reduced their gay and lesbian section to barely an aisle after forcing local gay and feminist bookstores out of business, the mainstream media reports only on stories about the gay community that are of mainsteam - not LGBT - interest.

Gay papers and gay reporters are important. We need to support and nurture the ones we have. Perhaps, too, we need a new model - something like Pro Publica, the non-profit organization devoted to investigative news gathering. If we were able to gather the best LGBT reporters from around the country and give them the resources to investigate important local stories, we could provide fuel to activists and bloggers everywhere.

I mourn the Washington Blade and all the other gay papers now gone that both built a community and explained it to itself.

But I celebrate the papers we have left. And I admire the reporters who staff them, providing the information to our community we just can't get anywhere else.

Open—But Invisible

No one can tell my girlfriend is gay.

An example: About two years ago, Jenny and a gay male friend went to San Francisco in June. They were excited to celebrate Pride.

But first they were hungry, so they approached a short gay guy wearing leather. "Anyplace around here we can get Mexican food?" Jenny asked.

The man looked them up and down and then said with a condescending sigh, "The Mexican neighborhood is a few blocks over. This is the Castro. I just want to let you know that there will be a lot of people here, because there's a thing happening called Gay Pride, so if you really want to stay in the neighborhood, there will be long waits." Jenny and her friend stared at him in disbelief.

"I am a lesbian standing with a gay guy in the Castro," Jenny said to me later. "And even then, no one knows I'm gay."

I think this is funny, because to me Jenny is obviously gay. Sure, she keeps her curly hair long. She wears makeup. But she tends to gesture like a boy, she talks low in her throat and her nails are short. In these post-'L' Word glamour lesbian days, those should be all the cues another gay person needs.

But no.

Not even gay people can tell that Jenny is gay, and it makes her sad.

"How can you be part of a community if no one can see you?" she asks.

Humans are a tribal animal, and if you're gay, the LGBTcommunity is your tribe. We want other gay people to recognize us, because it makes us feel less alone. It makes us feel like part of something.

"Also, being gay is more fun," Jenny says.

Back in the early '90s era of identity politics, recognition was easy. We wore rainbow rings around our necks, pink and black triangles in our ears, shirts with slogans like "No one knows I'm a lesbian" on our torsos.

When we came out, lesbians automatically cut their hair and stopped wearing makeup completely.

But as the movement has gotten older, lesbians - and gay men, too - have stopped conforming to a narrow (if highly recognizable) stereotype and instead have found ways to be both gay and deeply ourselves. We now know that if we like the feeling of long hair against our shoulders, if we like the way our eyes look when rimmed with mascara, if we like the swish of skirts against our knees or the brisk click of heels, then that's OK.

We can be butch all the time, sometimes or never. Whatever we choose to wear, we're still lesbians.

But while society has gradually grown more accustomed to the idea that gay people can be flamboyant or perfectly ordinary, we in the gay community don't always recognize our more subtle brothers and sisters on the street. We assume heterosexuality. Even in our own neighborhoods and our own shops.

Yesterday, Jenny walked into a cafe. "Feminist Salads" was chalked on the menu board. Ani DiFranco growled over the sound system. And the woman behind the counter, pierced and short-haired, was so clearly lesbian she could have been wearing a name-tag.

"I kept joking with her and talking to her, wanting her to know I was gay without actually saying, 'Hey, I'm gay!' or 'Hey, I have a girlfriend at home!'" Jenny told me later.

"I looked at her and felt a sense of connection - and I wanted her to have that sense of connection, too. But of course she didn't."

So Jenny left, feeling more isolated than if the barista had been straight. Because the woman didn't see her.

What a Difference a Decade Makes

It's sometimes tough to measure progress, personal or political. Our lives are lived slowly, day by day, and so change can seem incremental. Or impossible.

But a lot of difference can be made in a decade.

About 10 years ago, I went to my dad's second wedding and wrote about it here. It was the first time since high school that I had seen many of the family friends and neighbors who I grew up with, and so it was an evening of perpetual coming out.

Gray-haired friends of my dad would ask, "Are you married?"

And I'd say, "I'm partnered with a woman. I'm a lesbian."

There would be a short pause. They'd start to say something. Then a longer pause.

Then they'd say something like, "Excuse me, I need to say hello to Mrs. Smith, I just spotted her"; or, "Would you like something from the bar?"; or, in one memorable case, a woman who I like very much said - with the best of intentions - "I work in a school with developmentally disabled kids, so I know what's it's like to be special and different."

I looked at her and paused. Started to say something. Paused again.

"Can I get you something from the bar?" I said.

Things are so different now.

Last week, I went to my sister's very elegant wedding. It was attended by many of the same people, most of whom I hadn't seen since my dad's shindig.

This time, my current partner was invited. And this time, things were very different.

"It's wonderful to meet you!" these even-more-graying friends of my dad said. They kissed her on the cheek. They made party small talk. They took me aside to tell me how great Jenny is, how funny, how much they like her, how perfect we are together.

When they left, they made a point of saying goodbye to Jenny, too; of asking us both to dinner; of hoping they saw us both again soon.

Jenny and I slow danced together. We held hands. A year into our relationship, we are obviously in love and we didn't try to hide that or mute it.

We were out lesbians at my sister's wedding and no one cared.

And that is exactly how it should be.

Marriage in Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire and Connecticut has legitimated gay and lesbian couples in a way nothing else could. It even affects couples like Jenny and me, who can't get married in our home state of New York (though our Governor says we should expect marriage by the end of November).

People are getting accustomed to the idea that gays and lesbians get married, that we call each other husbands and wives. And with social change, familiarity breeds acceptance, not contempt.

That is why the marriage debate itself has been useful - even when it fails, in places like California - because it has meant that hundreds of ordinary gay and lesbian couples have been showcased in the media and on the streets. We are no longer a mysterious minority with strange and secret rituals. We are couples. We are families.

Yes, my dad's friends had 10 years to get used to the idea that I was a lesbian. But they wouldn't have changed their minds if society hadn't rapidly changed.

Jenny and I are planning to get married when our marriage can be legally performed in New York.

We're planning on a small wedding, so we don't know if we'll invite any of my dad's friends.

But the difference now, is that we feel like we could.

And if we invited them, we think they'd come.

Opposite Color…Same Sex

Let me tell you a story.

A Louisiana couple goes to a justice of the peace. They love each other. They want to get married.

The justice of the peace, though, denies them a marriage license.

He says society doesn't accept those kind of marriages. He doubts, he says, that the couple will be together long. He says, "My main concern is for the children."

He says, "I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves." He says, "In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."

He says, "I try to treat everyone equally."

This is exactly what happens to gay couples over and over again in the 45 states where we can't marry.

But this story isn't about a gay couple. It's about a straight couple. An interracial straight couple.

And no, this interracial straight couple story didn't happen in the 1950s, way before the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia in which the court wrote, "Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival."

This story happened this month. It was reported by the Associated Press.

It is an astounding story, because the same arguments that the justice of the peace made against marrying this interracial couple - arguments that are clearly wrong and, in fact, illegal - are regularly made to explain why gay couples shouldn't be able to marry.

Sometimes, people learn best by analogy. It is easier for us to understand a complex situation if we are shown the ways it resembles a more familiar situation.

Because of that, this ugly incident is something of a (strange) gift to the gay community. It is clear that this public official is wrong in refusing to marry an interracial couple based on his own experience, opinions and prejudices.

And, because he uses the same arguments used against gay couples, we can see that it is also wrong when individuals - and states, and the federal government - refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, just because they are worried about the effect on the couple's children, or because they don't think that sort of couple is valued as highly (Remember that the official said he believed that interracial marriages don't last long - that is, they are not as strong or equal as same-race marriages.)

National LGBT organizations quickly issued a joint statement saying they stood with the NAACP and that "It is wrong for loving couples who want to make a life-long marriage commitment to be denied that right because of someone else's prejudice."

It is wrong. It is wrong when it comes to interracial straight couples, and it is wrong when it comes to gay and lesbian couples.

We rely on public officials, legislators and judges to do their work in the best interest of the people, without personal bias.

We don't ask them to judge the quality of our marriages or our commitments; we don't ask them to decide if we love each other enough, or are mature enough, or are a couple that other people like, respect and approve of. We don't ask them to analyze each couples' fitness to be parents or partners. We don't ask them to pick our perfect mate, or decide what we should and should not do in the bedroom.

That is not their job.

All we ask is that they license our marriages so that we have proof that we belong to our partners exclusively, that we are a family in the eyes of the law.

It is 2009 and an interracial couple still has issues getting married in the state of Louisiana. It is 2009 and a gay couple still can't get married in the state of New York - or Illinois, or California.

Both situations are equally wrong.

New March, New Movement

The Equality March was a success.

I didn't think it would be, honestly. I was worried about the lack of publicity, a sense of organizational disorganization, the tepid response from our trusted national organizations.

I was worried that the March would wind up being a few shirtless guys and a megaphone.

But I was wrong.

Thanks partly to Barack Obama deciding to speak the night before at HRC, the March brought positive national press attention to our issues. And enough people came - perhaps 200,000 from across the country - that it strengthened our sense of community and unity.

But perhaps most importantly, the March showed that we are now a different movement. We are a movement that knows what it is doing. We are a movement that will win.

The gay civil rights movement has slalomed through many iterations over the past 40 years. There were the Stonewall days, when we were trying to stop police harassment; the lesbian separatism of the 1970s; and the '90s era of identity politics, when we were determined to celebrate - and make the country accept- our distinct culture.

But the feel of the Equality March was very different.

This wasn't about outsiders seeking visibility. It was about ordinary people wondering why we weren't being treated like everyone else.

Despite the sunny weather, men weren't marching with their shirts off. There was no lesbian fire eating. No boas. This wasn't about a celebration of individual flamboyance or the acknowledgement of sub-identities. This was about showing Washington and the world that we are serious about our rights. That we will not be silent. That we will not back down.

Sure, there were groups of Christians and bears and anarchists and an amazing number of straight supporters. But by the end, the crowd mostly flowed together, with couples with children marching beside a guy in a chicken suit and everyone stopping by the White House for a photo.

Marchers carried signs that expressed rights-fatigue: "Tired of carrying signs," one said. "I got married. Why can't my moms?" said another.

We have spent the year protesting and marching thanks to the fallout over the passage of Proposition 8 last November, and all that activism shows. Even our young people are no longer new to this. We know what to say. We know what to do. We chant, sure, but mostly we walk, holding our rainbow flags high, making a statement through our peaceful presence.

There were a few celebrities, most notably Lady Gaga. But even they were about protesting, not performing. This wasn't a march to express our buying power or our party power. It was about our staying power. It was a march that said, "No matter how tired we get, how long we've been doing this, how much our feet hurt, we will stay the course."

Washington was empty over Columbus Day weekend. No Senators were looking out their windows to see the human river below. The White House was quiet. The center of DC felt almost deserted. There were none of the Pride Day crowds; no beer-swilling gawkers. No thump of dance music.

There was only a sense of determination. Of public will. Of the fierce belief that we deserve equality and if we demand it loud enough and long enough, we will get it.

The Equality March was less about who we are and more about what we can - and will - do.

The Equality March said to the country: We are not outsiders. We are Americans who were born equal. And it is time Washingon recognizes that.

The High Cost of Queer

It is expensive to be gay.

How expensive?

We didn't know. We did know that committed gay couples had fewer rights than committed straight ones. We knew this meant we paid more for health insurance, that we couldn't share our partner's social security benefits, that we had to pay estate taxes that straight couples didn't.

But the wonderful people at the New York Times ran the numbers. They wanted to figure out how much more gay couples had to pay over their lifetimes because of fewer rights.

So they set up an imaginary lesbian couple with kids and an imaginary straight couple with kids. They gave them the same imaginary income of $140,000 per couple. And they looked for best-possible-case scenarios (both women were able to get health insurance on their own, for example) and worst possible cases (property was in only one of their names, which left the survivor with a whopping inheritance tax).

The reporters went through around 900 simulated tax returns, analyzing the data.

What did they find?

That, yes - it is expensive to be gay. Very expensive.

Try $41,196 more expensive than a married straight couple for a married lesbian couple with kids.

That's the best case.

The worst case is that this mythical lesbian couple will pay $467,562 more than a straight couple over their lifetimes - all because of a lack of rights.



That is a lot of money.

And that is great.

I mean - the cost itself isn't great. That's a preventable tragedy for thousands of families. But it is great that the cost of our rights is now in cold, hard dollar signs, because it is economic arguments that are most likely to move legislators (and perhaps judges).

Before, we knew the number of federal rights gay couples were denied: 1,138. But that number doesn't compute for most people. We don't understand what it means.

But almost half a million dollars? That we get in our gut.

That's a pair of college educations. That's the difference between living on the edge and being able to sleep at night. That's a house.

And the Times didn't even look at the other piece of this - that lesbian couples often make less than straight couples, especially because we're often found in helper jobs like social work, teaching and nursing.

They didn't consider that it's still legal in most states to fire someone for being gay or lesbian. They didn't look at the fact that some jobs with good benefits - say, serving in the military - are closed to us, which means that we also have fewer opportunities than members of straight couples.

Nevertheless, I am grateful to the Times for this analysis. It's the kind of work we need to do on our own behalf, because it's this kind of work that makes change.

We spend a lot of time in our movement trying to convince wingnuts on the right that Christianity doesn't have to be anti-gay, that we are just like anyone else, that we don't have some kind of subversive agenda.

These arguments don't work. Not on wingnuts. In fact, NOTHING will work on wingnuts, because they are crazy. They aren't open to argument or reason - they have their opinion and they're sticking to it.

But most Americans aren't wingnuts. Most Americans believe in fairness and justice. And it is those Americans who will look at those numbers and think - This is not OK.

We have rightness on our side. But now we also have the numbers. And sometimes, numbers speak louder than words.

A Same-Sex Cinderella

When I was a young girl, I loved fairy tales. Especially Cinderella.

Part of it was her sparkly dress in the Disney movie version. But part of it was the feeling all children - and perhaps especially gay children - have at some point: that your family of origin doesn't understand you (and also, they make you do icky chores).

Cinderella captures that, plus the hopeful thought that someday you will fall in love and someone will fall in love with you, and they will see you for the beautiful princess you are.

I loved Cinderella as a child and I loved it as a teenager, when I read re-imagined, darker versions.

The trouble, however, with Cinderella, as with most traditional fairy tales, is that the Princess-to-be is always straight, as is the Prince. Fairy tales help children and teens imagine an adult life where they overcome adversity to find authenticity and love, but it is always straight love. And young people need to know they can find happily-ever-after with a same-sex partner, if that is what their sexual orientation turns out to be.

That's why I really appreciate books like Malinda Lo's Ash. Ash, which will be released in September, is a retelling of the Cinderella story for a young adult audience. In it, the orphaned girl, here given the nickname Ash, is forced into servitude for her stepmother and stepsisters to pay her father's debts. There is a prince, and a ball, and fairies, and a spectacular dress.

But there's something else as well.

Though Ash finds herself at first seduced by a man, she grows into a mature love with a woman who has taught her skills she needs to survive and thrive in the world. It reads the way an actual coming out can, moving from what is expected to what is true.

Ash is not just a straight fairy tale with the genders of one of the heroes switched; instead, it is fairytale told with a lesbian sensibility.

As adult gays and lesbians, we see many more representations of ourselves in the world. We're no longer limited to the limp-wristed gay best friend role in sitcoms, or the murderous lesbian in heels (or flannel) in movies. We are no longer ignored in books published by mainstream publishing houses, or pushed into the gay section in bookstores.

Instead, we are doctors, housewives, and accountants in media representations, just as we are in real life. We fall in love, we do good deeds and bad ones, we get revenge, we get jealous, we get hurt, we get hope.

Children and young adults see those images now, too, but they don't necessarily identify with them. That's why it is amazing that children's books like King & King, which tells the story of two princes who fall in love, and young adult books like Ash are starting to fill in the gaps.

Fairy tales tell archetypal stories with themes that deeply resonate with us. That's why the tales have lasted so long in so many different forms. So fairy tales creatively re-imagined with gay protagonists - fairy tales that use a familiar form to tell true gay stories - are necessary for us to help craft the narratives of our lives.

I'm grateful for Ash and King & King and all the other stories that are reassuring children and young adults who might be gay that their lives, too, will have richness and triumph and magic and love.

They need to know - really, deeply, fully know - that life may be hard. Your stepmother may lock you in the cellar. You might have to clean out the fireplace. No one may understand you. But gays and lesbians have happily-ever-afters, too.

American Consecretions … Global Implications

It doesn't matter if you attend religious services weekly or if you have fallen away, if you're atheist or agnostic, if you think religion is the opiate of the people or the road to peace - established religion in America is an important force.

So when the bishops of the Episcopal Church voted this week to affirm gay clergy, it was an important move.

Ever since 2003, when the openly gay Gene Robinson was consecrated as a bishop, the 77-million member Anglican communion - the worldwide body of which the Episcopal Church is a part - has been threatened with schism.

Three years ago, there was a moratorium on future elevation of gay bishops until the issue could be more carefully considered. The gay Episcopal group Integrity says that this week's vote effectively ends the ban, though others say that it just affirmed what was already the case, that gays and lesbians are a full part of the Episcopal Church.

Last month, conservative breakaway churches in the U.S. formed their own Anglican group aligned with more conservative South American and African diocese. Called the Anglican Church in North America, they have a paltry 100,000 members compared with 2 million Episcopalians - yet if the international Anglican groups choose to align with them instead, that could change.

For now, however, their absence has led to a more liberal Episcopal Church. A committee this week voted that the Episcopal Church should also permit the blessing of same-sex couples, though the full body won't vote on it until later this week. When it came to testifying in favor of the measure, 50 people did so - only six testified against it.

All of this might seem like inside baseball to you if you're not Episcopalian, even more so if you're not Christian or not religious at all.

But it IS important to all of us who are gay and lesbian, for a couple reasons.

First, the Episcopal Church is seen as the canary in the coal mine by other mainline Protestant Churches. They are waiting to see if accepting gays and lesbians as full members of the church will lead to a breaking away from the international church, or whether different views will be able to co-exist happily.

If the Anglican fellowship survives with an inclusive Episcopal Church, it might lead other denominations - Lutherans, Presbyterians - to follow the example of the United Church of Christ and become fully inclusive of gays and lesbians as well.

And once all Mainline Protestant churches start approving of gay marriage, it will be very difficult for politicians and anti-marriage advocates to make a religious argument against gay marriage, since it will be even more clear that not all denominations agree on this issues.

Secondly, however, the entire issue points out something that is easy for us American gays and lesbians to ignore: the rights (or lack thereof) of gays and lesbians internationally has an effect on us here at home.

There is the threat of a schism because gays and lesbians in many parts of South America and Africa (South Africa being the notable, progressive exception) lag behind their American counterparts when it comes to how they are viewed by their societies. If gays and lesbians were seen as nearly equal in those parts of the world, we would have more rights in the U.S. now.

That is, mainline churches would have accepted us already - which would lead to more pressure on politicians - which would lead to a quicker change in our laws.

Our rights at home are affected by gay and lesbian rights abroad.

A gay rights battle in one place - whether that place is within the Episcopal Church or in a city in Africa - affects gay rights in every other place.

We will not have full equality here until gays and lesbians have equality everywhere.