Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Taking it to the Streets

By Shawn Healy
Yesterday, more than 150,000 supporters of homosexual rights took their message to the fulcrum of power in Washington, demanding equality in Washington during a window ripe for reform. Last Thursday, the House passed enhanced hate crime protections for gays, lesbians, and transgenders, a long sought after legacy of the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard in 1998. On Saturday, President Obama stood before a gala sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and promised that he would end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy employed by the military since 1993. He claimed that his commitment to gay rights is "unwavering."

However, given the ambitious agenda on the first year president's plate, gay rights have remained on the backburner, and Obama has given no indication of when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be repealed, nor tread new ground on issues like the Defense of Marriage Act. Cautious optimism seems to characterize a movement that lined up en mass behind a barrier breaking figure in his own right.

Obama walks a precarious line between risking political capital on an issue that could undermine his frontline agenda items like health care reform and cap and trade legislation, and deferring a dream that in the eyes of many is long overdue. He likely has an eye on the last Democratic president (Bill Clinton) who grappled with the issue only to see his ambitious goals sacrificed for a peacemeal approach thereafter.

These concerns considered, Obama will find it increasingly difficult to hold back the waters of a rising tide. How will be continue a policy that facilitates the harm recounted by former Navy recruit Joseph Rocha in this Washington Post op-ed? Next month, Maine voters decide whether or not to validate a state law that enables same-sex marriage. Five states and counting constitute these ranks, though none has done so directly through the voice of the people. In the nation's capital, the city council appears likely to legalize same-sex marriages by the end of the year. The Defense of Marriage Act may be undone from the bottom up.

Bob Dylan's lyrics in The Times They Are-A Chagin' were directed at the civil rights movement of his youth, one centering on race and later gender. The following lines are apt as ever in describing the forces of change gripping government institutions across the land as civil rights reach their "final frontier."

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.


Post a Comment

<< Home


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at