We routinely condemn leaders who oppose marriage equality as throwbacks whom future generations will judge harshly. That’s because we have a progressive view of the world. We see the march of humanity as one of overall advancement, despite some occasional backsliding. We chart history as a wavering but upsloping line leading inexorably toward peace, compassion and acceptance.
For decades following Stonewall, the LGBT community survived mostly on crumbs from the table of power. Our political champions were well intentioned but overly cautious pragmatists. They patted us sympathetically on the back with one hand while holding out the other for a donation.
They were no match for our ruthless enemies, salivating with hate. Over the past 20 years, our political allies – to paraphrase the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats – lacked all conviction, while our enemies were “full of passionate intensity.”
Then suddenly our movement reached a critical mass, and our sloping line of progress veered sharply upward. Faced with both the inevitability of equality and the dark judgment of history, one after another of our sympathizers emerged from the shameful secrecy of their own closets. We welcome them with open arms and we hope they savor the relief that comes with speaking their heart’s truth.
In recent weeks, we at WiG have watched this parade of acceptance with awe and gratitude.
We were stunned when Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady urged his legislators to back marriage equality and then survived an effort by the Christian right to oust him. We applauded when U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, chose his love for his gay son over his fear of political repercussions and came out for same-sex marriage.
Portman said he wanted his son to experience the same kind of loving marriage that he enjoys with his wife.
Portman’s bravery, coming before the U.S. Supreme Court took up two landmark cases on marriage equality, set into motion a phenomenon that CNN describes as the “Portman effect.” In the days that followed, all but two Democratic U.S. senators up for re-election next year announced their support, including Sen. Jon Tester, from conservative Montana, and Sen. Kay Hagan, from the Bible Belt state of North Carolina.
According to a number of recent polls, support for marriage equality has soared to an all-time high. A CNN/ORC International survey found the number of American supporters has risen from 40 percent in 2007 to 53 percent today. The reason is people like Portman’s son Will. The same poll showed that 57 percent of Americans now say they have a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian, up 12 points from 2007.
Harvey Milk’s call to “come out, come out, wherever you are” is the catalyst behind our success.
Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer, there is no going back now. Passion has arrived on our side of the issue, and it’s our opponents whose resolve is evaporating. Even die-hard homophobes now acknowledge, with great regret, that they’re on the losing side of history.
Let’s hope that history remembers their names as symbols of brutish ignorance, as impediments to human progress and the evolution of the soul.