Plenty of gay people, Hamilton included, hope the Supreme Court, which is hearing two cases related to same-sex marriage next week, soon will expand rights for same-gender couples in this country. But even in a favorable scenario -- if California's same-sex marriage ban is invalidated, and if the federal government starts recognizing same-sex marriages -- LGBT people still will be subject to vastly different laws depending on where they live and work. Folks like Hamilton, who moved from New York to Oklahoma, might as well be going from Alaska to Russia.
States, of course, shouldn't give up their right to self-governance.
But when it comes to civil rights issues, they have an awful history of clinging to laws long past their expiration dates. In 1967, 16 states banned interracial marriage. The Supreme Court overturned that. Mississippi and others fought against racial integration in schools. But level heads, and courts, prevailed.
I'm no legal scholar, and I'm not sure exactly what the best strategy would be for ensuring gay people are seen as equal under the law in all states. But I do know that it's far too complicated right now.
Hamilton, the man who lived in New York, decided to move to Oklahoma, where he had grown up, to take a job as executive director of the Cimarron Alliance, a statewide LGBT rights group. The nonprofit asked him, he said, if he wanted a corner office in the new community center the group is unveiling this month.
It has nice big windows, the group told him.
Hamilton turned it down. He worries he would be targeted.
"We are seeing an uptick in anti-LGBT violence here," he told me on the phone. (In one instance, last year, a Tulsa man said he was beaten up because he's gay). "And I think that's part of the change process. When people feel like they're really losing their grip or their hold, oftentimes violence results."
If, heaven forbid, Hamilton were to be victimized because of his sexual orientation and because he's a leader of an LGBT rights group, Oklahoma's state laws wouldn't treat it as a hate crime. On the federal level, as of 2009, LGBT people are explicitly protected. Kansas, a two-hour drive to the north, lists lesbian and gay people as specifically protected from hate crimes, but does not extend rights to transgender people.
Sounds fair, right?
Either we live in a nation that supports LGBT equality or we don't.
But we can't have it 50 ways.