This Is America’s Biggest Moment Ever For Gay Rights

Gay Wedding
Maxine Kincora (L) and Jan Stafford become domestic partners in California in 1996.

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to hear two huge gay marriage cases this week involving the Clinton-era defence of Marriage Act and California’s gay marriage ban Proposition 8.

The court’s decision even to consider same-sex marriage symbolizes just how much America has evolved on gay rights in an unbelievably short period of time.

Back in 2004, my gay friends in Brooklyn, N.Y. used to have debates about whether it was the “right” time to fight for same-sex marriage.

Massachusetts had become the first state to legalise gay marriage in 2003. The following year, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome became something of a gay hero when he ordered the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A few days after Newsome’s bold move, Jason West, then mayor of the small town of New Paltz, N.Y. got cheers from gay New Yorkers when he started performing same-sex marriages in the Village Hall.

It seemed like a backlash might be coming, though.

I remember one lesbian friend pointing out that she obviously couldn’t be “against” gay marriage. But she wondered why activists weren’t focusing on what she believed were more attainable goals — like making sure gay teens didn’t gay beaten up in school.

Her unease wasn’t unfounded. A huge backlash did come in 2004, when 13 states amended their state Constitutions to officially ban same-sex marriage. That year, just 31 per cent of Americans were in favour of gay marriage, according to the Pew Research centre for People and the Press.

America has changed dramatically since 2004. Now, less than a decade later, 58 per cent of Americans support gay marriage, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll.

Dozens of people and organisations have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Supreme Court to support gay marriage — from prominent Republicans to two heterosexual NFL players to 70 major corporations to the Obama administration.

It was just 1986 — in my lifetime — that the Supreme Court upheld a law in my home state of Georgia that criminalized consensual gay sex.

So, what’s changed? For one thing, it seems like more and more people feel comfortable coming out of the closet these days (including likeable celebrities like Anderson Cooper, Ellen Degeneres, and Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City”).

The other thing that’s changed is the push for marriage equality itself. The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse argues that the Proposition 8 case in particular has been “speeding and enhancing public understanding and support for marriage equality.”

That support for marriage equality, in turn, is a sign that anti-gay bias in America is finally starting to subside. Openly gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni once wrote that people who oppose gay marriage do so because they see gays as “lesser people.”

“If how we love is suspect, then so is who we are,” he wrote.

The opposite is also true. The surge of public support for gay marriage is a sign that more Americans now see gays as equal.

In 2013, I still know some unconventional gay couples who might choose not to get married. But every single gay person I know believes same-sex marriage is worth fighting for.

That’s because the battle to repeal the anti-gay laws DOMA and Proposition 8 is about more than marriage equality. It’s about Americans seeing gays as equal human beings. Period.