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Learning from history: 87 years ago, women got the right to vote
Learning from history: 87 years ago, women got the right to vote
Having just turned 66 this month, that means that when I was born in 1941, women had only had the right to vote for 21 years.

In our struggle for full legal equality, we, in the LBGT Community often discuss "incrementalism", and it seems to me that we have an ongoing argument between the purists and the pragmatists, which unfortunately, at times degenerates into full scale warfare, with each side seeing the other as the enemy.

I think it serves us well to look at recent history to see how far we have come, and to understand that progress cannot be made without a mutual understanding between the two groups that both are essential to acheiving the goal of legal equality in our lifetime.

Shortly after I came out in 1980, Tom Stoddard and Paula Ettelbrook, who at that time were both with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, toured the country debating the subject: "Marriage vs. Civil Unions". In each debate, Tom and Paula would switch sides of the argument, so both became very skilled at presenting both points of view.

I attended the debate in the Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle, and it was the first time many members of the audience, including myself, had ever even considered the idea that legal marriage for us was possible.

I have no idea how many of those debates took place, but I do know that they were a defining moment in the Marriage Equality debate, which I am sure many people engaged in the current struggle are not aware of, and I think it is important to honor the legacy that Tom and Paula created on this issue.

My point is that each of us need to decide where we fit the best: as a purist, or as a pragmatist, and then to treat each other with respect, as comrades in arms, rather than as enemies.

Those who are purists need to always keep pushing the envelope by protesting, educating, and raising consciousness.

Those who are pragmatists must always be on the political cutting edge, constantly moving the "Center" in the direction of full legal equality for all, and at times, as a last resort, settling for an incremental gain, rather than the status quo.

It is equally important that the pragmatists not blame the purists for creating negative fallout in their process of pushing the envelope; and that the purists not blame the pragmatists for 'selling out', when they settle for a substantial incremental gain.

To the purists, I would point out that the tremendous progress towards equality in the past eighteen months has, in part, been due to depriving the Republicans in Congress of their use of the Federal Marriage Amendment as a 'bully pulpit'.

This is the result of having elected some Democrats to the House and Senate who do NOT support Marriage Equality, but the change in control of both Houses of Congress has been of tremendous benefit to the GLBT struggle for full equality in our lifetime.

To the pragmatists, I would point out that in large part, it has been the work of the purists which has created the climate in which Marriage Equality has a chance to become a reality for all of us in our lifetime.

Pragmatists must also always be alert to take advantage of every opportunity to push our issues to the absolute limit of political reality.

Working together, purists and pragmatists make a helluva team against the forces of reaction, who, we must always remember, are the real enemy.

Until next time....Jim Toevs

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