When historians write about the LGBT movement, 2013 will hold a special place. When it comes to political breakthroughs, the past year stands out as a landmark, with marriage equality topping the list.
The year had its failures too, starting with Christine Quinn’s inability to convince NYC to elect her as its first lesbian mayor, though that was more on her deficiencies as a candidate than on the power of our influence.
But even some of the failures had silver linings: they marked advances that will likely be realized. Here are 11 reasons why 2013 will go down in the books as one of the best ever for LGBT politics.
1. Supreme Court marriage decisions
It would be easy to make a list in which all 10 milestones for 2103 are related to this single event. In two swoops (effectively voiding DOMA and letting Proposition 8 remain struck down), the Court legitimized same-sex relationships in a way that decade ago would have seem inconceivable.
Just as important, the rulings set off a ripple effect throughout the federal government. The Pentagon decided to treat same-sex marriages like any other. The IRS will recognize married couples whether they live in a marriage equality state or not. The Federal Elections Commission began to treat campaign donations from lesbian and gay spouses like other donations from married people. And on and on.
2. Statewide momentum
Before the Supreme Court ever made its decision, the momentum for marriage equality was already building. Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island all passed marriage equality laws prior to the demise of DOMA, with Hawaii and Illinois joining the list after the SCOTUS decision. Augmenting the legislative victories were state court victories in New Jersey and New Mexico and, perhaps most eye-popping of all, a federal court ruling for marriage equality in Utah. Altogether, the successes mean more and more Americans are covered by marriage equality, with the numbers only bound to grow as other states fall in line.
3. Protection for bi-national couples.
One of the best benefits to come out of the Supreme Court marriage decision was resolution of the wretched situation bi-national couples found themselves in. Under the ruling, married same-sex couples get the same visa considerations as any other married couple. Previously, couples faced forced separation because of the government’s refusal to recognize their relationship. The court ruling came at an opportune time. The Senate faltered in its attempt include same-sex bi-national couples in a comprehensive immigration reform package, which has since died in any event.
4. Growing disarray of the religious right
Our success comes at the expense of the religious right, which is relying on outdated tactics and shrinking demographics. The Mormon Church has not entered the political battle over marriage with anything like the vehemence it did in 2008. The National Organization for Marriage ran a deficit and branched out into other losing causes. Many leaders (for want of a better word) seem to have given up on the U.S. altogether, looking to Mother Russia as the new Promised Land for homophobes.
5. The Senate vote on ENDA
The Employment Nondiscrimination Act had less chance of passing in the full Congress than a drag queen has at the Miss Universe pageant, but the successful Senate vote did mark an important milestone for the bill everyone thinks is already law. In a Congress riven by political partisanship, ENDA managed to get the support of seven Republican Senators, five of whom are Mormon. It’s only a matter of (long overdue) time before all of Congress gets around to banning workplace discrimination once and for all.
6. Young Republicans keep pushing the party
The demographics aren’t good for a GOP that insists on fighting the Thirty Year Culture War. People under age 30 overwhelmingly support marriage equality, including young Republicans, and use it as a marker for how out of touch their elders are. 2013 saw a few futile attempts at rebranding, but a lot of the push is coming from young conservatives in groups or singly (like Josh Barro) who think that the Republicans are slitting their own throats, electorally speaking, by gay bashing. It’s their future; it will be interesting to see when they can actually seize it.
7. The electoral losses of antigay Republicans
2013 was an off-year for elections, with just a few high-profile races. But those races did not go well for the vocal homophobes who ran as Republican candidates. The most prominent loser was Virginia gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Cuccinelli, the state attorney general who wanted to restore sodomy laws as a sign of his dedication to all things antigay. Even Alabama showed it has its limits. Congressional candidate Dean Young tried to get himself elected by fanning the flames of homophobia, calling on his fellow Republicans to take a pledge to discriminate. Young won a spot in a run-off, but failed to win the party nomination.
8. Gay conversion therapy gets slammed
Apparently, no one told the right wing that the 1980s ended sometime ago, because they keep fighting the same battles. Case in point: conversion therapy. Science and politics have combined to make conversion therapy the gay version of intelligent design. The discredited and harmful counseling had the stuffing knocked out of it in New Jersey this year, when the state legislature passed a law banning its use with minors and which Gov. Chris Christie betrayed his right-wing fans by signing.
9. Rights of transgender students expand
Too many times, politics forgets the B and T part of LGBT, but in the case of transgender students, 2013 saw some important gains and heightened awareness. The most important came in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that protects transgender students. The right wing immediately suffered a breakdown and began to go all potty mouth, talking endlessly about the fear of unisex bathrooms.
10. The Boy Scouts cave, half way.
For 20 years, activists have been fighting the Boy Scouts of America for its policy of banning gay scouts and scoutmasters. In 2013, the Scouts gave in, part way, lifting the ban on gay Scouts. While gay adults are forbidden in the organization, the move reflects a major shift in the formerly immoveable organization. One sign that the Scouts had an impact: the outrage of the religious right at the move. Churches kicked their Scout troops out in protest, and a counter group sprung up to promote “sexual purity” among boys. Good luck with that.
11. Michele Bachmann calls it a day
As a final bit of comic relief, the queen of crazy announced that she’ll be retiring from Congress next year, immediately raising the collective IQ of that body. While there is plenty of Republican competition for Bachmann’s crown, there will never be another like Michele.
To which we can only say, thank God.