2015 will go down in LGBT history as a landmark year, primarily because of the final victory for marriage equality. But the changed political landscape is not confined to marriage. Other events are shaping the community’s present and future in equally important ways, not all of them good.
Here are three important political lessons we learned this year and the impact they will have in the coming year.
The courts are on our side
Everyone will long remember the Supreme Court decision granting marriage equality. But it’s easy to forget the equally important string of favorable decisions that led up to that ruling and the favorable decisions that followed. Court after court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, often in eloquent language defending our rights. Nor did it stop there. As a sign of how serious the courts are, Kim Davis, America’s least beloved county clerk, was thrown in jail for contempt of court for refusing to issue same-sex couples marriage licenses. Nor has it stopped there. Just this month, the Supreme Court stopped an Alabama court from denying parental rights to a lesbian, signalling that the marriage case may lead to stronger protections for gay parents.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t struggles ahead. The debate about religious liberty is not likely to be a pretty one in the courtroom. But it’s clear that, by and large, the legal system now views protecting our rights as a fundamental principle, and that’s a major change for the better.
We don’t know how to capitalize on the momentum
We just achieved one of the greatest victories ever for the movement. But we seem content to rest on our laurels and not to push for the next victory. That’s led to a real fear that gay identity won’t mean as much as it used to.
Marriage equality was a clear, understandable goal that affected a lot of couples. But here’s no agreement on what the next goal should be because nothing looms as large as marriage did. That said, there are plenty of good causes to choose from. The obvious choice would be workplace protections, but given the grip of conservatives on state legislatures, that would be a long, uphill push, without the help of the courts. Perhaps it was inevitable that some of the energy would dissipate after the Supreme Court ruling, but it’s a bad sign that we’re in danger of losing most of it.
The GOP is completely unhinged
As hard as it is to believe that the Republican party could get any worse, the past year proved just that. It’s a little bit like the uncle you always thought was nutty and now you discover is completely psychotic. After years of pandering to the nuttier elements of its base, the party establishment is discovering that only the most extreme views matter and that “moderate” candidates like Jeb Bush (who is far from moderate) are anathema to voters. Donald Trump has emerged as the perfect embodiment of the base’s id, and the equally nutty Ben Carson was briefly neck-and-neck with Trump in the polls. All told, the Muslim-baiting, deportation-happy, D.C.-hating voting base is no longer the fringe but is driving the party agenda.
So can it get any worse? Two words: Ted Cruz. If he’s the nominee, the lesson for 2016 better be how to get out the vote.