Marching Together, Marching Separately

Seattle's Pride Parade, held this past Sunday, is an annual celebration of individual and group identity. The message is simple: pride in one's sexual orientation. The event is also an expression of the needs and values of folks in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community--a group fighting for recognition of same-sex relationships and other basic rights.

The parade is also an example of how crucial it is for a group to control its message without interference from the state or others with an outside agenda. (This was the point of my Grange Party candidacy.)

The parade is a private event from which the organizers can choose to exclude people. This is important, because some may seek to latch onto the goodwill of the Pride Parade to promote their own aims.

This happened in the mid-'90s, when a group promoting sexual relations with minors was refused participation in the Seattle Pride Parade. Organizers had to exclude the "man-boy love" group, because their participation would send the ugly message that child abuse is OK. Viewers along the route might be confused that the Pride Parade condoned this behavior.

Preserving the message--i.e., speech--of a private group is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. This right was tested in Boston during the '90s, where the issue involved the LGBT community being excluded from a very different parade.

A veterans group in Boston promoted an annual St. Patrick's Day parade, with no gay or lesbian groups allowed. This triggered a discrimination lawsuit that worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices ruled unanimously in favor of the private veterans' group. Their 1995 ruling stated: "(The Law) ... is not free to interfere with speech for no better reason than promoting an approved message or discouraging a disfavored one, however enlightened either purpose may strike the government."

In other words, a group is entitled to its message and may not be compelled by the good intentions of the state to include others who would alter that message. It's disappointing that in the Boston example, certain people were excluded only because of their sexual orientation. But justice is blind, so there's no stopping LGBT folks from having their own parade--in Seattle and beyond--on their own terms.

The issue of "gay rights" is dynamic. It's a struggle for human dignity. Even though the course of time has led toward greater acceptance, there are setbacks like Prop 8 in California. And here in Washington, antigay groups are promoting R-71, which seeks to repeal our new domestic-partnership law.

The Pride Parade is fun and colorful, but it's really about politics, and political speech. Issues like R-71 loomed over this weekend's past festivities.

If R-71 qualifies for the ballot, folks who want to preserve the domestic-partnership law will need to march together. And they should be able to do so with a simple message of pride. If others disagree, let them have their own parade. The state shouldn't allow the dilution of political speech on either side.

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