Yes, I have to keep pinching myself. For the longest time, in my marriage equality stump speech from the 1990s, I would end by citing Hannah Arendt’s classic case for ending the anti-miscegenation laws:
Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.
What I was trying to do was to get (at that point) mainly gay people to see how the denial of the right to marry was effectively a nullification of the Declaration of Independence for gay Americans. The right of gay people to marry was more profound in truth and in law than the right of gay people to vote. “So why aren’t you fighting for it?” I’d declare. Until they did. Getting straight people to see this was actually easier over the years (tell a straight person he doesn’t have the right to marry the woman he loves and you’ll get some powerful pushback). But now look:
Americans think the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution gives gays the legal right to marry. In a closer but still significant division, 50 percent say it does, while 41 percent say not, with the rest undecided.
So a Supreme Court ruling that did not find civil marriage as a core constitutional right for gay couples would now be against public opinion. Ross and Rod are surely more right than they might imagine. This is becoming not a victory for gay equality but a rout. The new Post/ABC poll, for example, finds for the first time that there is a plurality in favor of marriage equality in every age group. Even the over-65s are now in favor, by 47 – 43 percent. The next generation (under 40s) sees the issue as a no-brainer with a massive 72 – 22 percent in favor. 40 percent of Republicans are now supportive, with 23 percent strongly supportive. And, in fact, the intensity factor – long on the side of fundamentalists – now operates in favor of gays and their friends and families.
By the end of the Obama presidency, gay Americans may well achieve a near-total victory in their quest for equality.
And the backlash, as we saw with the Arizona debacle, is likely to be ferocious but also, at this point, self-defeating. I’m honestly staggered by the swiftness and totality of this victory in public opinion. But also, of course, incredibly heartened. Our gamble was correct: if we speak our truth, others will listen; if we explain our pain, others will salve it; if we are guided by our consciences, and make our arguments sincerely, Americans will come around. I wish more Christians would see this for what it really is: a huge moral achievement, an expansion of human consciousness and compassion, an extension of mercy and of dignity to many long shunned and excluded for irrational and often hateful reasons, and, above all, the alleviation of profound and ancient and unnecessary human pain and suffering.
I wish more Christians could see that this movement has been and remains God’s work on earth. But that wish, every day, becomes more and more of a reality. The long, dark Lent of gay history is slowly inching toward Easter.
(Photo: Michael Knaapen and his husband John Becker react outside the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013, after DOMA was struck down. By Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.)