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With this victory, 2011 may go on record as the gayest year ever! Earlier this year, Obama got “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed, empowering gays and lesbians in the military to serve openly. And, we have finally tipped the scales in our favor, narrowly, so that a majority of the American people are on our side and believe that gay marriage should be legal.
Even with these important gains, we are still nowhere near full equality in this country. At the risk of bursting our big glittery gay bubble, there are some grim realities that we still face—29 states still ban same-sex marriage and only 6 have made it legal. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still federal law. Our right to adopt children in some states is still tenuous at best and could easily be challenged by a well-funded group of religious zealots. There are over 1,100 rights and benefits provided to married couples on the federal level that same-sex couples are denied due to DOMA; our youth are mercilessly bullied and gay teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers, etc. etc. etc.
Despite the major issues we face, gay rights advocates are already working to apply lessons learned from the New York battle to other states. Some expect marriage equality to sweep across the country. I suspect that it could also prompt a backlash the likes of which we have never seen. In New York, the opposition was totally ineffective and not as well funded as the gay rights coalition. This is not likely to be true in other states where religious conservatives are extremely well funded and fanatically and very effectively organized. We witnessed this in California during the Proposition 8 battle, where the Mormon Church played a prominent role in defeating marriage equality. We’re likely to be up against the same kind of formidable opposition in many other states. If we expect marriage equality to 'ripple nationally', then we must keep a couple of things in mind.
The first thing that progressives need to do is to cut President Obama and our allies in his administration some slack. Stop all the griping and whining about how he hasn't done enough on gay rights. It is simply not true.
All the harping about all he hasn’t done obscures the fact that he has been the best president in the history of this country for the LGBT community. To those of you who are disillusioned with him, I defy you to read this list of accomplishments by the Obama administration over the past several years for the gay community and name one administration in the history of this country that has accomplished half as much for gay rights. Further, I'd like for you to imagine what will happen for LGBT people in a Michelle Bachmann administration? Or any Republican administration?
Don’t get me wrong, Obama still has a lot of work to do. In my opinion, this idea of an 'evolving' stance on gay civil rights is nonsense and must be forcefully challenged by our community. But, it is counter-productive to throw our allies under the bus the way some are inclined to do. Undermining President Obama is like a political suicide pact for the gay civil rights movement. Advocates for gay rights—yes, that’s us folks—must create, on a national level, the kind of organized and coordinated effort that led to the victory in New York.
In terms of applying lessons learned, we need to take notice of the kind of coalition that was forged in New York. We saw the gay community, once at odds with Gov. Cuomo for his evolving stance on gay marriage, unify and work with him to get the billed passed. Working with the administration doesn't mean we have to settle. We can and must hold this President accountable for the hope and change he promised, but we don't have to burn our political bridges to do it. If we don't work to re-elect him and he becomes a one-term president, as is the stated goal of the Republican Party, it is likely that New York will be the last marriage equality gain we'll see in a really long time.
In part 2 of this piece, we’ll discuss the rich and a slightly unorthodox idea about how we can use them to our advantage. See you next time for part 2!