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I have been fortunate to receive a few awards in my lifetime, and I always appreciate them, but I must say that this is a very special one because the gay community has supported me from the very beginning. I know that this is a challenging moment in your history. So I am very proud to accept this award from the Human Rights Campaign at this time. You are on the frontlines in the struggle for equal rights, even as continued prejudice stands in the way.
The American Constitution is a magical document that has evolved over 200 plus years. While we revere it, it did not start out as a perfect document. This Republic was founded with a Constitution that counted slaves as three-fifths human. It took decades and a Civil War, the deadliest in U.S. history, to erase that stain upon our country. It took over 100 years to bring women into the political system by giving them the right to vote. Interracial marriage was illegal in some states until 1967. Now the Bush Administration wants to change the positive inclusive direction of our Constitution by calling for an amendment that authorizes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Well, I say, no way. Dr. Martin Luther King taught us that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. We must always go forward, towards greater liberty and greater equality, not backward.
You know, for me, the realization that two people should have the right to form a sacred union regardless of their gender was strengthened when I saw a performance of the play The Normal Heart in 1985. After feeling the love those two men had for each other, I dare anybody not to want them to get married by the end.
The law cannot dictate matters of the heart. When two people form a deep bond, there is usually a soul connection, and the soul has no gender. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental rights in this country. Happiness can be many things - a good meal, a good friend, a warm puppy, and certainly...love. How can anyone legislate who you can love? That is a human right, the right to love and be loved. And when you love someone, whether you're in a heterosexual or same-gender relationship, shouldn't you be able to visit them in the hospital when they're sick or dying? Shouldn't everyone have the right to enter into a loving, legally binding, committed relationship that takes on special responsibilities and obligations?
Current civil union legislation doesn't go far enough in protecting equal rights. We must not deny gay families many of the benefits that help keep families strong...social security, pensions, veteran's support, inheritance, the right to take unpaid leave to care for a spouse...the list goes on and on.
Instead of helping families, this president wants to spend a billion and a half dollars to bolster marriage. Turning government into a marriage counselor is a joke...a waste of time and money. It's not a policy; it's a diversion.
But this administration regularly uses the politics of diversion to their advantage. They cleverly use divisive cultural issues to avoid talking about other serious problems, such as unemployment and healthcare. They go after Saddam because they can't find bin Laden ... They want to send missions to Mars instead of protecting the Earth... Tax cuts for the wealthy instead of assisting the poor... You have to look at what Bush does, not what he says. Talk is cheap. He expresses empathy for military families and then cuts their benefits...He names a proposal "The Clear Skies Initiative" that pollutes the planet...He says he'll be a uniter and then drives us apart...He steals the slogan "No Child Left Behind" and then breaks his promise to fund his reforms.
Truly, I stand here flabbergasted at what is going on in today's world. Never in my life have I witnessed a president and an administration that is so out of step with the needs of the country, so threatening to our future and so abusive in its use of power.
The Clinton administration left this country with a budget surplus, and also a surplus in the goodwill we shared with our allies. Now we have a deficit in both.
Before the war in Iraq, I went to hear Scott Ritter speak - he had been a weapons inspector for seven years. He told us there was no imminent threat to the United States, that the program to develop nuclear weapons had been dormant since 1998. There was no connection between Iraq and al Qaeda (one is a secular society and the other fundamentalist), that chemical weapons have a short shelf life and wouldn't be usable today...in short, everything Scott Ritter told us has turned out to be the truth.
But this president (the only one to cut taxes during a war) made terrorism a partisan cause. He charged Democrats with being soft on terror, a lie. He appointed John Ashcroft to trample our civil liberties as Attorney General, and, from a human rights point of view, his use of Guantanamo Bay has roused international protest.
Now as the president gears up for his re-election campaign, the right wing propaganda machine is ready to take the skin off of John Kerry, the Democratic Party's nominee. I've never seen anything as ruthless or as relentless as this. They can take a slur hatched at the Republican National Committee or a lie huckstered by the Heritage Foundation, repeat it on Fox, hit it on Limbaugh, print it in the Wall Street Journal, until it's coming out of every media outlet imaginable. Repeating lies over and over doesn't make them any more true. But it does make people believe the lies a little more until finally they stop demanding the truth.
I've seen their ferocity up close, as I witnessed the astounding assault on the CBS movie about Ronald Reagan, in which my husband starred and Craig and Neil produced. They attacked that movie and drove it off network television before any of them had ever seen it.
The Right Wing is very well-organized. They fight dirty. They project their own nastiness onto their opposition. Remember how they accused the Democrats of stealing the election in Florida, while they themselves were doing just that!
We're now in a period that whenever you say something that's critical of the government, you are accused of being unpatriotic. Bush even lent himself to an utterly despicable campaign in Georgia that impugned the patriotism of Senator Max Cleland, who had sacrificed three limbs in the same Vietnam War that the president ducked. Talking about patriotism, let's never forget Bush's fellow Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1918 said, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
Indeed, this country now faces a fundamental choice. Multilateral security or pre-emptive wars. Closing or widening the gaps between the haves and the have nots. Facing the truth or accepting the lies. The public taking an interest or tuning out. Extending our rights or turning them back.
Mr. Bush will dress himself up as a compassionate conservative once more for the election, but he has embraced a remarkably radical policy, which I pray the public finally sees. The mishandling of national and economic security. The shameless politics of special interests and crony capitalists. (And when you talk about special interests it's important to differentiate between public interests that benefit the larger good of the people, like protecting the environment or finding a cure for cancer, versus the special interests that are limited to a particular industry or corporation, like Enron or Halliburton). Bush recently pushed through a prescription drug bill that actually gives a better deal to the drug companies than to the seniors who need the drugs. And what about the new energy plan that actually increases our dependence on Persian Gulf oil (even though he recently said just the opposite in his State of the Union speech).
The Republicans will try to win the election by convincing the American public that they are the father figures who can keep us safe. But the facts contradict the myth. Two and a half years after the largest attack on American soil, our borders remain easily penetrable. We have the capacity to inspect only 2% of cargo containers coming into our country. Local law enforcement has been weakened by spending cuts, and our intelligence lacks manpower and updated technology. And which party's budget provides the most for homeland security? The Democrats!
This president is so transparent. The only way he would agree to investigations of the mishandling of intelligence leading up to the Iraqi war, is if we wait until after the election to get the reports. Has this administration no shame? What job are we not doing that has allowed them to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people?
But...there is hope. It's starting to turn. I can feel it. The media is finally asking the president and his staff the tougher questions, and looking into the issues that should have been investigated years ago. The people are speaking out at all levels from the grassroots to Washington. All of the good work so many people are doing is finally making a dent. We won't be scared into submission. What should scare us is that we have no checks and balances on this administration. They control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court. All we have is each other. So each of us must do what we can to create positive change in November. I know the Human Rights Campaign will be at the center of the struggle for equality. And let's be smart...Let's be pragmatic...Let's not allow the Republicans to use gay marriage as a political tool in this election year. Truth and justice eventually wins out. I am proud to stand with you tonight as the recipient of this prestigious award. Together we can and we will win the fight.
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