Rights Race

Gay Rights Coming Sooner Than Expected?


We like to think of history as the orderly progression of change over time, but the records disprove this notion: The Eastern Bloc fell overnight, the U.S. was gripped by the fear of terrorism after 9/11, and the financial center of gravity moved from New York to D.C. in a matter of months. One thing we hear again and again here from gay leaders is that “eventually” gays and lesbians will enjoy full equality, but could “eventually” be coming a lot sooner than we think? There are signs it will.

The Prop 8 Effect

The first sign gays and lesbians may be enjoying equal citizenship status in the U.S. is the most obvious: As the marching slogan goes, we “want it now.” Wanting something to happen doesn’t make it happen, but public pressure does. In the aftermath of Prop 8, which saw Californians stripped of their marriage rights just a few months after receiving them, the LGBT movement turned a corner. At the heart of this change was the reframing of the debate from being about “gay rights” to “civil rights.” The change may seem semantic, but it has had far reaching implications. Put simply, it’s a lot easier to get Americans behind the idea of supporting civil rights, which we’re raised to believe is a virtue and hallmark of American democracy, than it is to win them over on the gay “lifestyle.”

This is something large LGBT groups don’t seem to have grasped quite yet. For decades, their strategy was to win over straight America by convincing them that “we’re just like you.” It’s not a bad strategy, but the protesters and grassroots groups have come up with a better one: “We don’t care if you like us, but you must treat us as equals.” Unfortunately, the institutional weight of large LGBT rights groups have made it difficult for them to adapt to this new environment, as we saw last week in their tepid non-responses to New York Gov. David Paterson’s gay marriage bill announcement. Rather than supporting the move, most expressed a fear that it would not pass.

The underlying message was “We don’t want to disappoint people when it doesn’t happen.” This is a well-meaning but patronizing response; even a loss would be a win for the gay community. Why?

Frankly, we have little to lose. We’ve lost heavily in the fight to keep constitutional bans against same-sex marriage from passing. And as a younger generation, which views sexuality and gender as a fluid thing, enters and commands the public square, they don’t have the patience or temperament to win over the bigots. Nor should they have to. By making their case often and vocally, gay rights protesters forced the issue onto the American dinner table (after Ugly Betty and before Anderson Cooper 360) and by reframing it as a civil rights issue, they’re winning.


Republicans Step Back From Bigotry

The collapse of the Republican party is partly tied to its anti-gay rights stance. That much is clear. As Scott Schmidt, Meghan and Cindy McCain talk niceties to the Log Cabin Republicans, they also admit that their changed tune is based on politics as well. There will probably always be a conservative wing of American politics (and conservatism is not, by definition, anti-gay), but a debate as to whether the Republican party will be the standard bearer is not a crazy notion.

For decades, social wedge issues got the GOP elected (that’s what “rallying the base” is all about), but the electorate is moving moved past those issues (or wearied of the same battles being fought over again and again) and the GOP looks, and acts, increasingly out of touch. The party can either become a social conservative regional party or it can begin embracing common sense equality issues. Either way, it’s a win for gays and lesbians.

It’s All Politics, Dude

If there’s one thing we learned, gay equality is almost universally used as a pawn in political maneuvering.

Rare is the politician that speaks up for us without having an ulterior motive. Bemoan it, but that’s just the nature of politics. However, with the strong and vocal equality movement enjoying the big mo’ and Republican zealots like Maggie Gallagher making anti-gay supporters look like idiots, it doesn’t take a genius to see that for many Democrats, speaking out on behalf of gays and lesbians can score them political points.

Think of it this way: If you can paint your opponent as a homophobe and you live in a moderate district, you should. It will help you get elected.

Meanwhile, the more states that offer marriage equality, the more difficult it will be for DOMA to hold-up both legislatively and in the minds of voters. The longer it stands, the more legal challenges it will face. Already, gays and lesbians in Massachusetts are suing the federal government for denying them basic federal marriage protections, even though they’re legally married in their state.

This isn’t going to stop anytime soon. At some point (we’d say when the number of states offering gay marriage gets to 10 or so), the Supreme Court will be forced to weigh in. The environment has changed and continues to change rapidly. We need only to help the train pick up more steam.

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  • AS13

    DEMAND it NOW!!!

  • Paula Brooks

    I ran an article calling archbishop Tim Dolan appointment to New York City nothing more the the church moving their best PR man to the city to stop Gay Marriage in New York… and boy did I get a reaction from the church… they assigned a tag team to come by our site to sell the church’s reasoning why LGBTs should not be equal and why my article was unfair and off base…

    The discussion went on for sometime… until I pointed out that that what they were saying about gays… the words and thoughts they were expressing… were exactly the same words and thoughts being used and expressed on David Dukes site… and provided a link to prove it…

    You Wanna talk about shutting down a debate quickly …

  • Norman

    The Eastern Bloc fell overnight? True, Gorbachev accelerated the process to seem that way, but after 45 years of the Cold War, he was probably just exhausted.

  • Chris

    Gay marriage states could get to 10 this year: the four now plus NH, NY, NJ, ME, and possibly CA if the court rules with us which is still quite possible despite the naysayers, and RI if their legislature gets the balls up override the, VERY unpopular Gov.

    I think we’ll see the part of DOMA repealed that prohibits federal recognition after about 10 states come onboard…probably after the 2010 midterms depending on the economy.

    The Supreme Court won’t weigh in a Loving v Virginia type decision (on the reat of DOMA) for another five years or so — 2015 – 17? Which is fine because we’ll have some new blood on the court and one of those hateful GOPers have to have gone down by then.

  • Mitch


    It’s going to happen people. Like it was mentioned in the article, the rising generation (myself included in this) views sex and sexual ideas very fluidly, unlike our parents and grandparents, who are currently holding all the cards. But in 10-20 years, we’ll be holding all the cards.

    I will be thoroughly shocked if gay marriage is not 100% legal by then; it’s going to happen, no matter what.

    It’s not a matter of if, it’s only a matter of time.

  • Lee

    I often agree with you, but there are a several, unnerving problems with this, starting with your headline. WHEN exactly was/is “expected”? You see, unlike your late, cute series of vlogs on Logo, there’s a difference between saying things on camera and putting them in text – – the “air” in “hot air” is more immediately obvious. With respect, this essay, like fish, rots from the top down.


    “In the aftermath of Prop 8…the LGBT movement turned a corner. At the heart of this change was the reframing of the debate from being about “gay rights” to “civil rights.” The change may seem semantic, but it has had far reaching implications. Put simply, it’s a lot easier to get Americans behind the idea of supporting civil rights, which we’re raised to believe is a virtue and hallmark of American democracy, than it is to win them over on the gay “lifestyle.”

    WHERE have you been? Or has your Alzheimer’s been diagnosed yet? The most consistent criticism of the No On 8 campaign – – specifically directed at its TV ads – – begun during the campaign and now ballooned into a certified meme one challenge at the risk of his/her life and limb – – was that it was TOO “civil rights” oriented and not “gay enough.” The straight bride losing her shoe, etc., trying to get to her wedding; the straight, older parents of a lesbian with her nowhere seen; the two straight women friends talking 8 over coffee; straight Samuel Jackson’s voice-overed ad equating 8 to historical attempts to deny other groups equality; straight Dianne Feinstein reminding voters to think fairness and equality for all….

    “WHERE were the images of gay people? Queers talking about themselves?” they’re still screaming, and by “they” I mean include the very people you’ve frequently promoted as the breathtakingly visionary, revolutionary jugend of “Stonewall 2.0.” My how quickly that catch phrase got caught on the door.

    They are blissfully unaware or purposely ignore the fact that there’s little research to back them up, that our few successful direct vote gay rights campaigns have consistently employed straights to sell gay equality to other straights, e.g., the son of a lesbian couple in a MA ad TWO YEARS ago [mentioned “Mar 10, 2009 · …by Japhy Grant] and the parents of a lesbian in another ad in the same campaign, and/or appeals to generalized concepts of equality for all.

    And, despite the fact that its faults still outweigh its virtues, you seem to have zoned out that the best known, best funded LGBT rights group in the country has since its inception been called the HUMAN Rights Campaign, though “Fund” was originally tacked onto the end.

    And what is this about “protesters and grassroots groups have come up with a better one: “We don’t care if you like us, but you must treat us as equals.”? WE totally support that idea, and the way black gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin more eloquently expressed it TWENTY PLUS YEARS AGO should be printed on t-shirts at which everyone at every rally from here to Equality should be forced to wear.

    But our confusion is in your history of applauding just the opposite:

    ” ‘Now gay citizens and their allies are teaming up to show America and the world the compassion, the love, and the posititve spirit of the gay community through service.
    On December 10, 2008 the gay community will take a historic stance against hatred by donating their time to a variety of different causes in order to raise public awareness of the need for LGBT equality in marriage and in other civil rights’. This is a great idea.” – “Nov 19, 2008 · posted by Japhy Grant.”

    But Hooray! if you’ve changed your mind.

    One could go on dissecting your inconsistencies, lack of historical perspective, and magical thinking about, for instance, the GOP and Supreme Court, but the larger point is that extrapolating from the justified excitement of a few victories, each unique in execution, to sudden universal equality is counterproductive because it either generates the kind of complacency that saw defeat snatched from the proverbial jaws of victory in California or impotence-inducing naivete about exactly how much work by how many people and at what cost is still to be done to overturn marriage equality bans remaining in over 40 states, repealing federal DOMA, repealing DADT and the “sodomy” ban in the Universal Code of Military Justice, passing job discrimination legislation in roughly 30 states, and stopping the homohatred-driven slaughter and suicides of the innocents.

  • Lee

    PS: As demonstrated by posts 4 & 5, Queerty could accelerate change by a recurring banner banning the self-defeating but ubiquitous expression “GAY marriage.”

    It’s “marriage equality,” people!

  • Mad Professah


    This is the absolutely MOST favorable scenario the gay community could have (unless Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Sam Alito are found in a gay orgy and resign en masse!). I think the actual number will be closer to 5 or 6 by the end of the year, not 10.

  • Pragmatist

    @Lee: Yep, I agree. “Gay marriage” is an imprecise and often inaccurate term anyway. And it sounds like some sort of special new right for a particular group of people. I’ve always said “same-sex marriage” myself in analytic contexts, but I really think that “marriage equality” is the most appropriate term for general public use.


    It’s actually Steve Schmidt, dear.

  • Steve

    Don’t ever say “gay marriage” again. That’s the term right-wingers use to stir up the bigots. It evokes images of something different from “real marriage”.

    Do use the term “equal marriage”, or “equal rights”, or even “equal marriage rights”. That evokes images from the civil rights movement.

  • kevin57

    I agree that change will happen quickly…and outside the tortoise control of Washington, DC…rather than slowly. I would cite three core events in the life of gay liberation: Stonewall, AIDS, and Prop 8. It is indisputable that the first two exercised a seachange in societal attitudes about gays. The third’s is yet to be seen, but the dynamics within the gay community are very similar.

  • Chris

    @Pragmatist: At least 7 by 12/31… NJ is a definate, they are just waiting till after the election in November…Maine looks pretty solid — NY and NH are tossups for this year….CA and RI are complete question marks.

  • Chris

    (that last comment was @madprofessah)

  • john

    Straight people can be so damn mean about gay marriage.

  • Nate in SLC

    Rhode Island is a no go for right now. The majority leaders in both houses of the legislature and the Governor there are all opposed. In fact, the Governor has even signed on as a representative of NOM. The earliest Rhode Island will see it is probably 2012.

  • Suzanne

    Its really Same-sex marriage! not gay marriage! I am not straight..I am not gay…I am bi…which makes me not gay (in the literal) sense. If I was to marry I bi woman ..that would not be a gay marriage…it would be a same-sex marriage. That is why I get offended a bit ( only a bit) because it doesn’t include people with other sexualities other than gay or lesbian! so all is good tho…just prefer people using the term same-sex…as its that is more encompasing for all.. just MHO!

    Suzanne in Canada

  • Lee

    Sorry, Suzanne. If you’d read the preceding comments [I agree that can be tedious at times], you’d understand that if you want people everywhere to have right to marry the person of their choice, whether male or female, you’re wiser to stay on message of “marriage equality” without mentioning sex/gender at all.

    Not only is it more strategically neutral but semantically sane: unless there are a lot of people in Canada using the expression “opposite sex marriage” I’m unaware of.

  • McShane

    Gay Rights is damned until we continue crawling backwards, like sick worms into assimilationist ethics. Why should straight people respect us if we kiss their butts and try to copy their sex sacraments.
    We’ll be ourlawed first, unless we generate our own gay liberation morality and identity

Comments are closed.