Column, 436 words

The Long Road to Marriage Equality

As the suffragists who fought for voting rights for women and the abolitionists who struggled to end slavery learned, freedom takes time.

William A. Collins

Won the battle,
Cheers galore;
Now we need
To win the war.

With the legalization of gay marriage in New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, plus other forms of recognition elsewhere, it’s easy for straight folks to assume that equality has been won.

Not so. Discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation still prevails in most of the country.

same-sex-marriage-equality-long-road

Plus, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still in force. This legislation denies federal benefits to same-sex partners no matter what their own state laws may say. There’s little chance of repeal as long as at least one house of Congress sports a Republican veto. Conservative states with Republican legislative majorities are also frantically passing constitutional amendments enshrining bias into their own sacred documents. It’s a Jim Crow moment.

This timing seems ironic. Opinion polls now indicate that a majority favors gay marriage, and even federal courts are coming around, but North Carolina voters are going to vote next year on whether to amend their state’s constitution to ban it. As the suffragists who fought for voting rights for women and the abolitionists who struggled to end slavery learned, freedom takes time.

But marriage equality is on the way.

Lately, there have been favorable rulings in California, where the courts are sorting out whether a state ban on gay marriage is constitutional. And President Barack Obama has directed the Justice Department not to defend the government against the federal court challenge to DOMA.

Nearly half of young evangelical Christians favor the legalization of same-sex marriage. So much for that formerly rock-solid base of bias. And the daughters of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and John McCain have come out in support of marriage for all.

Meanwhile Mexico is marching down a similar gay rights track. Its Supreme Court has decreed that all 31 states must honor same-sex marriages consecrated in Mexico City, where it is legal. For a solidly Catholic country to progress this far suggests a dramatic paradigm shift.

Meanwhile, the military has ditched its discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. On the day it became legal for gays to serve in the military, the ever-opportunistic Marines stationed a recruiter at a big gay community center in Tulsa. He got no insults that day, but no takers either.

There remains the vexing question of what to do with those soldiers who got kicked out under DADT. Many want their old careers (and pensions) back. So far, they’re just providing more grist for the courts. If you care to see how all this ends up, you’d better be young.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org