Sunday, 11 December 2011
Marriage equality is inevitable. I believe that we have passed the tipping point and are rapidly approaching critical mass. The evidence is all around us.
15 or 20 years ago, an online discussion of the rights of LGBT people would be mostly gay people, courageously speaking up in the face of massive disagreement, patiently citing legal rulings and precedents, scientific research, personal anecdotes, hate-crime statistics, psychiatric studies, APA statements, deep and well-researched theological examinations of relevant biblical passages, and appropriate news articles to illustrate the point.
Eventually, one thing became clear, after every nasty epithet was rebuked, after every misrepresentation was corrected, after every lie was exposed, after every piece of false information was revealed, after every opinion was meticulously dissected, after every argument was examined, all that was left was the simple intolerance for people who were different. All that was left was the core motivation of fear and hatred.
One of the arguments made then, and still true today, was that racism is not a black problem, it is a white problem. Likewise homophobia is not a gay problem, it is a straight problem. It is not a problem that can be solved by the targets. It is a problem that must be solved by those who are consciously and unconsciously creating it. And as that perception sank in, more and more straight people began to speak up in a variety of venues. I saw the phenomenon in various online forums in the 90's. A core group of gay people started confronting every homophobic remark posted in several of Compuserve's forums. In 1992, they stood alone. But by 1995, a great deal of the opposition to homophobic assertions was now coming from straight allies who had learned from the words of the activist participants. By refusing to keep silent, by speaking up, by continuing to be a strong opposing voice, the LGBT people shifted the conversation about themselves.
And that conversation was based on a very powerful single idea:
Always in the past straight theologians had defined homosexuality as a sin, straight doctors defined it as an illness, straight legislators defined it as a crime, straight psychiatrists defined it as a disorder. But at no time, did any of these people ask LGBT people what their opinions were. Or what their experience was. The movement, which found its energy in the Stonewall riots of 1969, was a declaration, "You don't get to define us anymore. We will define ourselves. We will be the experts on our own experiences and relationships and we will tell you. Who we are. We have spent a lifetime listening to what you believe about us, now it is time for you to be stop talking and listen to us tell you what we know about ourselves."
As more and more gay men and lesbians began speaking out, more and more straight people began to hear the message. And the history of the gay movement echoes what Gandhi said a half century before. "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." We are in the final stages of that process.
The gay movement started in 1969. For the first ten years, it was ridiculed. But in 1976, the backlash began in Dade County and that's when anti-gay legislation became a tool in the right-wing political machine. We've seen 35 years of initiatives and referendums designed to let people vote against "those terrible queers." Those initiatives and referendums have been a great way for neoconservatives to scare the voters to the polls -- but those initiatives and referendums have also been loss-leaders for the real issues and candidates that the right-wing political machine wanted to pass. The anti-gay issue is simply a way to motivate ignorant people through fear of the unknown.
But that political strategy is only temporarily effective. Ultimately, it's self-defeating. The more that the right wing makes homosexuality an issue, the more that they make it acceptable for straight people to talk about it. For a long time, straight people wouldn't talk about homosexuality for fear of being thought homosexual. When national leaders make homosexuality a political issue, and bring it into the national conversation, they make it okay for everybody to talk about it. And the more that people talk about it, the more they learn, the harder it is to make them fear.
And the more that homosexuality becomes an acceptable part of the national conversation, the easier it is for gay men and lesbians to come out to their friends and their family, the easier it is for public figures to be openly gay.
At the top of this I said that the evidence is all around us. Look at all the threads and all the comments on Facebook and everywhere else when the issue of marriage equality comes up or when Prop 8 is discussed. Yes, there are many gay voices present but also notice that the majority of voices now speaking in favor of marriage equality are straight voices. Even more important, notice that the question of the sexual orientation of the speaker is no longer relevant to the discussion. The discussion was focused primarily on the argument at hand.
What is been particularly exciting to me is the ferocity and passion that so many straight people have expressed in support of marriage equality. It shows that the national conversation has shifted profoundly. It shows that our culture is showing some danger signs of maturity in the recognition, the empathy, the compassion, the acknowledgment of the humanity of all people, and the right of all people have a joyous and creative and inventive sexual expression.
For a long time I had viewed the increasing ferocity of the anti-gay movement as a last desperate hiccup of history. On some deep unadmitted level, these people have to know they have lost the war. They may still win an occasional skirmish but they are on the run. Like the Japanese soldier who refuses to admit defeat and stays hidden in the island cave still resisting the truth 20 years after the surrender, these people are demonstrating more and more how much they are addicted to hatred – and by doing that, they further marginalize themselves. The best they can do is delay the inevitable.
Where we are now, today, is a dramatic shift from the past. Our military has integrated gay men and lesbians into the service without incident. The so-called "Defense Of Marriage Act" is on a fast-track to be declared unconstitutional and when that happens, states will have to recognize the legality of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Six states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriages, and when Proposition 8 is finally overturned, as I expect it to be within a year or sooner, it will be seven states that recognize marriage equality. When that happens, nearly 1/4 of the population of this country will be living in a venue where same-sex marriages available to gay and lesbian couples.
Some sociologists believe that it only takes 20% of a population to change the entire culture. This is why Prop 8 may very well be the last major battle in this movement, because when it is one we will have passed critical mass.
Another statistic worth noting is the demographic one. Various polls show that the national approval for marriage equality is somewhere around 54 or 55% and rising by 2% every year. And that trend seems to be accelerating. The greatest opposition to marriage equality comes from older voters, people who grew up in a time when homosexuality was sinful and shameful. The greatest approval for marriage equality is coming from younger voters who have grown up in a time when they have been able to watch Will and Grace and other television shows that include gay people as a matter of fact.
Every year, a new slice of 18 year olds joins the demographic. Every year, and old slice of older voters disappears from the demographic. So right there we can see a large part of why the poll is trending the way it is. But more than that, the more that gay people celebrate their relationships with their friends and family members, the more that they have joyous weddings, the more they become a part of our larger national identity.
In my own life I have observed in people around me a profound shift in understanding, followed by an unqualified support for marriage equality, simply because it is the right thing to do. As I said above, the evidence is all around us. As I said above, all you have to do is look at any discussion forum, any comment thread, or any discussion here on Facebook.
Marriage equality is inevitable. I am impatient that it is taking so long to get to the promised land but I am thrilled that we are getting there.