|Posted on May 10, 2018 at 9:15 PM|
By Dennis Stone
I remember it well. May 9, 2013. The Minnesota legislature passed a bill legalizing gay marriage in my state. I recall the sense of euphoria, the feeling that something had been achieved that for so long I didn't think was possible. Just six months previously we had faced a state ballot measure that would have amended our constitution to prohibit marriage equality. For much of the campaign we thought we would lose. No state had ever defeated such a ballot proposal. But we eked out a win, with 52.6% of the vote. In retrospect it wasn't really all that impressive a win. Gay marriage wasn't legal, and defeating the ballot proposal would not have legalized it. But passing it would have dashed our hopes for years. Yet only a bare majority of my fellow citizens valued my rights and my dignity enough to turn down the proposal. Polls had consistently shown support for marriage languishing in the upper 30s to mid 40s.
We celebrated the defeat of the ballot initiative, but it was more a sigh of relief than a truly happy time. Marriage still seemed a distant dream. But sometimes social progress moves from a gradual trickle to an increasing flow to a cascade. We knew society was moving our way, but we weren't aware of how fast it was moving. Amid protestations that it was moving too fast, that society and morals were being eroded, that our children were threatened, our legislature passed a bill legalizing marriage equality, and on May 14 Governor Dayton signed it into law. What had so recently seemed nearly impossible was now a reality!
One of the guys who worked for me at the time is gay, and another had been a staunch equality proponent for years. When word reached us that day at the office we all celebrated, wide grins pasted on our faces for the rest of the day. The gay guy left a bit early to go to a wildly enthusiastic rally at the nearby state capitol. Unfortunately I had a major project due and could not attend, but the story led all local news reports that day, and I experienced the exhilarating celebration vicariously, flipping from channel to channel while surfing through the internet.
As I look back now, five years later, I am struck by two things that together reflect both the state of gay America today and also its history. The first is how swiftly everything has changed. When I was born, being gay was considered by most everyone - from regular citizens to psychiatric associations - to be a mental illness. Having gay sex was an illegal act that could lead to arrest and prosecution. As of 1970 only one state - Illinois - had decriminalized gay sex. It wasn't until 2003 that the Supreme Court legalized gay sex for the entire country. Even at that late date it was illegal in fourteen states. It wasn't until 2004 that Massachusetts became the first state to legalize marriage. And as a result of that shocking action a wave of constitutional amendments passed in other states that made it almost impossible to consider marriage in those states. And consider this: as of May 1, 2012 no president or major party candidate for president had ever supported marriage equality. All - including Barack Obama - had expressed the opinion that marriage was between one man and one woman. It wasn't until May 9, 2012 that Obama finally broke through that wall of fear.
The second thing at which I marvel today is the overwhelming degree to which gay marriage is taken for granted, less than three years after the Supreme Court legalized it throughout the country. No one but far right nutjobs decries it today. A couple of local clerks refused to issue licenses in the early days - the most notorious being Kim Davis in Kentucky, who was jailed for her refusal - but there has been no meaningful revolt. Almost no conservative journalists or commentators ever mention the issue, and many have expressed support or at least indifference. In the prior two decades many Republican politicians sought votes by railing against the "gay agenda," demonizing gay people and warning about all the calamities that would befall us should gay people get equal rights, especially - gasp! - marriage! Gay marriage is simply taken for granted today by the overwhelming proportion of our population. A growing majority overtly supports it, especially younger people, and most of those who don't support it are either resigned to it or aren't really bothered by it. Conclusion: gay marriage is already an accepted, non-controversial aspect of our society.
I think it's unfortunate that our exaggerated fears of Trump - wildly exaggerated, in many cases - are preventing many of us from seeing, appreciating, and celebrating the dramatic gains we've made in recent years. Despite additional gains we still need to make, this genie is out of the bottle, and is never going anywhere near that bottle again.