14 November 2012

The tipping point

Last week’s elections were a historic moment in public acceptance of same-sex marriage. After thirty some consecutive defeats in state-level contests, all four states in which marriage equality was being contested in 2012 gave victory to advocates of same-sex marriage. Maine citizens overturned their previous rejection of gay marriage. In referenda in Washington and Maryland, the majority of voters affirmed the same-sex marriage laws passed by their state legislatures. Minnesota defeated an effort to incorporate a gay marriage ban into the state constitution.

These state-wide votes were not anomalies, but are part of a more gay-affirming environment that has very recently emerged in the public life of America. In the election last week voters also rejected an effort to unseat a Republican legislator who had supported the legalization of same-sex marriage recently in New York State. Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first openly gay person in the United States Senate. A half year ago, President Obama became the first president ever to give public support for marriage equality. Two recent federal court rulings on DOMA rejected discrimination against LGBT marriages. With repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy gays can now serve openly in the US military.

The political victories of November 2012 are remarkable in light of the long road that gay people have traveled to be accepted here in our broader American society. And they are remarkable because of their speed: our other national civil rights movements to gain full equality under the law and in the workforce have been a long uphill battle that even continues in some degree today.

The tipping point seems to be upon us now. I don’t expect that every legislative debate, court case or state initiative will side with marriage equality from this moment forward, but it is more likely than ever that the coming victories will outnumber the setbacks. Younger Americans are strongly behind marriage equality. My own 10 year old son (with whom I have had very few conversations about homosexuality) said as much as we listened to a discussion of gay marriage on the car radio today. Without any prompting from me, he expressed that anyone should be able to get married regardless of who they are. Yes, on the question of equality, it is that simple.

In a way the gay rights movement is only partly about the right to marry. I think the broader struggle involves the collective aspirations of a minority people that have long been brewing and the consciousness of a nation more ready than ever to make peace with homosexuality. This movement is not just about a list of rights gained when civil authorities recognize a relationship. It is about achieving a society where gay people can walk down the street hand-in-hand with a loved one without shame or fear. It is about the hope that gay Americans have that their public and private realities can be one. It is about freedom from marginalization, shame, criminalization, vilification, misunderstanding and prejudice. It is about a nation, mostly straight, that is identifying the pull of justice on its conscience and finally moving to take public action on that faith. There remains those opposed to this broader movement, but momentum is not on their side. As evidenced at the ballot box and in the other political signs of the times, the tipping point appears to have arrived.

Ref: New York Times, 8 Nov 2012, page P7

1 comment:

  1. I think you're absolutely right, and I'm so thrilled about it. It is silly, though, that we so far have had to wait for America to vote on our rights. I hope that the Supreme Court will soon rule about the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of DOMA and Proposition 8.

    I also get the feeling that we're really kind of lucky (in a non-existential way) to be living at a time when this is all happening and working to our well-deserved favour.

    Anyway, thanks for the post and for sharing your ideas. I especially loved hearing about the conversation with your son. What if we used kids' morality (when untainted by outsiders) to help make laws?