13,623,044: That’s the estimated population the U.S. that now enjoy marriage equality; nearly 5% of the nation overall.
In a momentous day, Vermont’s state legislature overrode the veto of their Governor and became the 4th state in the nation to offer gay marriage (five if you count California). At the same time, the Washington D.C. city council voted to recognize same-sex unions from other states, joining New York and Rhode Island. In fact, when you throw in states which recognize out-of-state same sex unions, 12 percent of the country (by population) can get married regardless of their gender. That’s not a small number by any means. The question is, has gay marriage reached a tipping point?
Last night, as I looked up at the sky in Los Angeles, the full moon was surrounded in a rainbow halo as the clouds drifted by. I’m not one for signs from above, but there are many signs here on the ground that the gay rights movement has turned a page in the past week. Pastor Joel Osteen was on Larry King last night (Quick aside: Is it crazy religious conservatives week over at CNN?) and all he could grumble was that he believed in “God’s best.” When King asked him if he would accept getting the state out of the marriage business and make it a purely religious institution, Osteen was at a loss for words. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council had more vitriol, saying, “Same-sex ‘marriage’ is a movement driven by wealthy homosexual activists and a liberal elite determined to destroy not only the institution of marriage, but democracy as well” and conservatives on Twitter wrote that “Vermont acted against the will of the people”. Never mind that 58% of Vermont citizens support same-sex marriage.
But these people are finding themselves increasingly marginalized. New York Senator Chuck Schumer now says he supports full marriage equality, as does New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. There are gay marriage bills on the table in Nevada, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Washington state. Statistical guru Nate Silver has enough data now about marriage to make the prediction that by 2012, 50% of the U.S. would vote against a gay marriage ban.
“How’d we get here so fast?’, is the question many of us our wondering. After all, it was only a few months ago that gays and lesbians marched in widespread protests across the country and there are more protests and events planned in the near future. Of course, the protests and the marching have a lot to do with changing the national mood. It seems every few weeks, there’s a major development that LGBT activists can use as a tent pole to raise the issue of fairness and equality to mainstream Americans, be it marriage legislation, court rulings or well– Pastor Rick Warren. After years of struggling to grab the attention of the country about the basic denials of freedom gays and lesbians suffer, we’re suddenly in the limelight.
Part of this is also shear luck. Nobody could have anticipated that Prop. 8’s passage in California would reinvigorate the gay community as much as it has, not just in the Golden State, but across the nation. On a personal level, Prop. 8 forced me to think about my identity in a way I hadn’t before. Like many of my generation, the gay and lesbian community was something I would go out and visit, not something I saw myself a part of– and this is from someone who’s written about the gay community for the last five years in various capacities. After Prop. 8, I’ve seen, not just in myself, but in my friends and to those I get to meet through Queerty, a real sense of ownership of the term ‘gay community’. Put simply, the gay community is what you make of it.
It’s very easy to get hung up on how far we have to go, or on the nonsensical ramblings of bigots, but we should take stock of our achievements, too. We have changed the debate about gay rights in this country– and have done so in an extraordinarily short time. Obviously, a huge part of this success is built on the backs of gay leaders and organizations like Lambda Legal, who have brought our issues and concerns to the courts, but the idea that gay rights will somehow be won through a backdoor midnight ride has been obliterated forever. The key to our political equality lies in our ability to speak up, speak loudly and speak often.
This week has been a momentous one, truly something for the history books, but we must keep looking forward. Our eyes should now be focused on New Hampshire and Maine, both states that are winnable. If you’re looking for some way to contribute, we’ll keep you informed of the latest events happening across the nation, but talking about gay rights to your friends and neighbors will put a human face on what it means to be gay and lesbian in this country. It’s as simple as saying, “Hey, did you hear about Vermont?” Also, write to your representatives and let them know you want them to accept full marriage equality. Remember, they work for you.
Will gays and lesbians enjoy full equality sooner, rather than later? I think so, as long as we keep on fighting. –Japhy Grant