October brought marriage equality to state #14 – New Jersey. As attention now turns to the race between New Mexico, Hawaii and Illinois to see which state will become #15, we are also taking it to another level: Our momentum is going global.
In November, we are traveling to Japan to give a series of public lectures and seminars on marriage equality and LGBT rights, and to meet with Japanese LGBT leaders. And while marriage is in the air in Japan – Kanako Otsuji, the first openly lesbian member of the Japanese legislature, held a personal wedding ceremony with her partner Maki Kimura; and Tokyo Disneyland hosted its first same-sex wedding ceremony this year – currently same-sex couples cannot marry legally in any Asian country.
But just as we are seeing progress at home state by state, we are seeing signs of progress in countries across Asia, ranging from proposed legislation in Thailand for civil unions to a recent poll showing majority support for marriage equality in Taiwan. In the last week of October alone, historic rallies for marriage equality took place both in Vietnam and in Taiwan. In the words of Le Quang Binh, organizer of the Hanoi rally: “I believe in people and I think that when everybody speaks out, everyone has to listen whoever you are. So that’s why we do it this way. We mobilize public opinion, LGBT, students, young people so when people speak their opinion, politicians will have to listen. And I believe that politicians are also human beings. They need time to understand.”
One of the messages we will bring to Japan is that we can be proud that Asian Americans have been very active in the marriage equality movement, and organizations like API Equality have played a prominent role here in California. When API organizations filed an amicus brief in the California Supreme Court case that established marriage equality in California prior to the passage of Prop 8, over 60 API civil rights and community organizations signed on. Among the very first was the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), noting that one of the lessons from the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II must be to uphold the civil rights of all groups, including LGBT Americans. In the words of former U.S. Transportation Secretary and Congressman Norman Mineta, “a threat to anybody’s civil rights is a threat to the civil rights of all Americans.”
We look forward to reporting back in the coming weeks on our trip to Japan, and the lessons learned as we continue to make progress across all borders and boundaries.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.