The Work is Not Over – Gay Rights
Batman (formerly Triple Threat, formerly Teddy, formerly Laura, formerly Batman, now Batman again thankfully) was the first to tell me in a text moments after the decision. But despite being in the middle of nowhere, various media and even people i did not know spent energy getting me this message of this significant political advancement in the US.
There are lots of important takeaways from this win. First it is important to look at how far we have come, and how fast. Less than two decades ago, arguably progressive (on social issues) president Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was basically the opposite of the current supreme court ruling, prohibiting the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. This was a popular move in 1996. What happened?
Certainly, demographics is one factor. A bunch of closed minded anti-marriage-equality folks have died off in the last 20 years. More importantly, many kids have grown up seeing that their gay uncle or lesbian guidance counselor is cool and worthy of legal protection. But remember that social conservatives dominate both houses of congress and the current supreme court. We did not age our way into this significant change.
At the front of the list of who gets credit for this change is the gay community itself, which prioritized same-sex marriage as an issue, deemed it winnable, and ran endless legal challenges and referenda to secure this right. They put out a simple, understandable message (“I should get to marry the person I love”) and kept repeating it until people got it. It also helped that after Massachusetts allowed gay marriage in 2004, absolutely nothing happened, despite endless forecast the world as we knew it would end. (Except that the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918.) It became harder to pretend that same-sex marriage would result in increased divorces, etc.
Second in my analysis is that the mainstream media (MSM), who generally don’t get credit for doing much right in my book, actually came around on this issue.
I’ve written about how MTV was central in shifting young people’s thinking on gay rights in eastern Europe. And despite Fox News’ endless pandering to the Religious Right’s bigoted refusal to accept marriage equality, basically the rest of the MSM began more favorable coverage of the issue. This is partially about the way they covered the news, but it is more about the stories which got told in various TV shows which then influenced viewers’ thinking. The villainized gay character depictions have significantly diminished in the last couple of decades and have been replaced by cooler gay characters or at least ones that straight viewers can relate to. My son, Willow, watches the television show Modern Family in which a gay couple gets married and adopts an Asian daughter and raises her. This is the new normal. The idea that gay people should be denied rights because of religious works from 2,000 years ago is as stupid as 8 track tapes. Why would you want to do that?
It is also important to point out that this decision barely passed. Supreme Court Justice Scalia had a number of epic stupid things to say about the decision he opposed.
“Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.”
Conservative Judge Kennedy voted in favor of the decision largely because of the thousands of children across the country who’s parents were not legally allowed to get married under existing prohibitions. This single conservative defection enabled the court to do the right thing in its 5-4 split decision.
The good news is that their ideological blindness will likely once again bite the Republicans in the hind quarters. Immediately after the decision, GOP Presidential hopefuls started coming out against the ruling. Scott Walker, showing is detachment from the national reality is echoing the 2012 GOP platform in calling for a Constitutional amendment to block same sex marriages. This strikes me as a special form of political suicide. Former Pennsylvania senator (and GOP presidential candidate) Rick Santorum said: “Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people’s turn to speak.” Clearly Santorum has no ability to read polls. The people have spoken; the judges are simply parroting them.
And as pointed out in the two rings graphic above, there is still tremendous work to do in changing unjust laws across the country. So let’s celebrate this important win and let’s keep organizing.