EJ Graff notes that all the marriage equality states had employment non-discrimination laws in place beforehand. She sees a connection:
People change their minds about whether [gays] deserve recognition for our relationships only when they realize that they like us and our partners. Once they realize that the gays they ostensibly hate include Mary Beth in accounting and Jamal in HR, that hatred starts to soften. And once Mary Beth and Jamal know they can keep feeding their families once they’re out, they are more likely to feel comfortable introducing you to their partners at the grocery store or at church, and explaining how much a statewide DOMA would hurt their kids. Had nationwide job protections been in place since 1996, it’s possible to imagine we’d be even farther along with marriage in still more states, as more people realized they cared about their gay colleagues.
It’s possible. We have fought over priorities in the gay movement for decades. I was for marriage and military equality first – because it seemed to me that the federal government had no right telling private individuals not to discriminate when it was discriminating against gay people itself. I also believed that those two issues could reframe the debate in a way that recast gay people as who we really are: not so much sexual outlaws as family members with jobs and kids and often conservative values about service to the community. That reframing may now help pass federal non-discrimination laws.
What I have learned these past decades, however, is that you can have these debates in the abstract – but events, emotions, court decisions, and the uncontrollable rise of gay self-esteem scramble all attempts to keep them in line. A movement is never linear. It veers and rises and ebbs and flows with countless varying forces. But I did not realize the correlation between state nondiscrimination laws and marriage equality was quite as airtight as EJ has noted. And it’s eye-opening.