The story of the gay rights movement has been one of rapid progress when compared with other movements. Usually, progress moves very slowly through a culture, but the widespread cultural acceptance of gay marriage has made same-sex marriage a winning proposition in politics. While gay marriage bans are being overturned in state after state, politicians have been faced with a change in the political landscape. Now, opposition to gay rights is not a politically feasible position to have. Even the most unlikely groups and places are beginning to be more supportive of marriage equality than they once were. Subsequently, politicians who would like to oppose same-sex marriage have had to change along with the culture in order to keep their offices.
Just ten years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, a move that became the first signal that a political movement was snowballing. Now, gay marriage is legal in 19 states. Lawsuits appealing gay marriage bans are currently in action and more states are expected to join this list. Even in states like Texas, that are generally so conservative people would never consider change possible, have started to shift their collective opinions on the issue. In Gun Barrel City, Texas, two residents have brought a suit challenging the marriage ban in the state. The two men took precautions against the harassment they expected when the suit became publicly known, including removing phone numbers from lists, removing profile photos from social media and having a shotgun in the house to use against intruders.
People have been supportive, however, even if it is with reservations about the religious retribution the two men may face someday. In fact, a 2014 opinion poll showed that support for same-sex marriage has gained ground and is now even with opposition. Places like Gun Barrel City are a part of that progress.
Even religion has started to be more openly supportive of marriage equality. In North Carolina, the United Church of Christ has brought a suit against the state’s marriage ban. It is the first time that an entire religious denomination has put its united weight firmly in support of marriage equality. Now the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has joined in that fight along with the Alliance of Baptists. According to them, the marriage ban violates their religious right to officiate in same-sex marriages, which is an infringement of their constitutional right to freedom of religion. To many, it is astounding to see religious groups act in a way that is favorable towards gay rights. They take it as a sign of progress.
Politically, same-sex marriage is a thorn in the side of many conservative politicians. More than half the country supports gay rights, meaning that opposition to marriage equality can alienate more voters than ever before. In purely demographic terms, opposition to same-sex marriage is not a winning proposition. That means that politicians have had to change their views, and many of them have. Republican representatives running election campaigns have shifted their stances in a strategic acknowledgment of their voters’ beliefs. In Colorado, Republican Representative Mike Coffman, who once opposed the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, now supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. New York Representative Chris Gibson, a GOP candidate, has co-sponsored the act in order to signal his support for gay rights. Whether or not these measures will help them win their elections is uncertain, but it does seem to signal a change in strategy on the part of at least some GOP candidates.
There is a variety of theories as to why the movement to make same-sex marriage legal has been so successful. One thing that often gets pointed out is the increased presence of LGBT characters in film and on television. Glee and Modern Family are just two examples of the LGBT community’s presence in media. It can be questioned; however, whether this is an instance of moving progress forward or a symptom of that shift in culture. Another reason may be the prominent supporters of gay rights. President Obama was the first standing president to support same-sex marriage fully. Pope Francis has also expressed at least his lack of judgment for gays and lesbians. His question of “Who am I to judge?” was indicative of some of the attitudes towards opposition to gay marriage which sees such a political stance as hateful and bigoted. There is a host of other factors one could point to, but they all add up to a successful history.
The reasons why cultural movements are successful will be debated by theorists for a long time, but the gay rights movement has been remarkably successful when compared to any other “liberation” movement in recent history. From its trigger event, the Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1969 to the present juggernaut of favorable rulings has taken just 45 years, when it took 89 years for the United States to abolish slavery. For many members of the LGBT community, it is a hopeful thing to see so many people in America supporting them and their rights. Religious entities and conservative states are showing their support in line with an observable cultural shift towards greater acceptance. Politicians have responded by adjusting their stances on marriage equality and other matters of gay rights. Overall, it seems that politicians have realized something that many people already know. Same-sex marriage is a winning proposition and that, by many accounts, is where the country is headed.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury