Once upon a time it took political courage to stand up for LGBT rights. Mainstream journalists, elected officials and governmental agencies treated LGBT people with anything from open distain to polite tolerance. As recently as 2004, the Democratic candidate for President, John Kerry, would not speak out against blatant discrimination espoused by the proponents of the anti-marriage amendments that appeared on ballots in 11 states, including Michigan.
Fast forward to last week when the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases dealing with whether same-sex couples should be able to enjoy full marriage rights. At one point, Justice Elena Kagan noted that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton, targets only one group of Americans and that “Congress’s judgment was infected by dislike, by fear, by animus.” The 1996 House Report, she noted, reads in part: “Congress decided to reflect and honor a collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.” Her point was that the “animus” towards gays and lesbians, clearly defined in the Congressional Record, is no longer an acceptable rationale for discrimination.
She articulated reality – that the general attitude towards LGBT people has shifted, and that just not liking a whole group of Americans has no place in our collective political discourse.
We wholeheartedly agree. And we know that the cause for this rapid and profound shift in public opinion is that many more LGBT Americans have stepped out of the closet. Anyone who says that they have never met or don’t know a gay American is now viewed as out of the mainstream. And we know that the direct, personal experience of knowing someone who is LGBT is the primary factor in changing people’s attitudes.
We have been delighted by the specter of Republicans and Democrats tripping over each other in their rush to issue statements of support for full marriage rights. Sen. Bob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the most conservative U.S. Senators, voiced his support for marriage last week, and said his change of position had a lot to do with having a gay son. President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, cadres of congresspeople, senators, governors and mayors have collectively and individually issued statements of support.
Both of the U.S. Senators from Michigan, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow support marriage equality. Sen. Levin co-sponsored the 2012 bill that would have repealed DOMA, and Sen. Stabenow issued this statement last fall: “Gay and lesbian couples should not be denied the ability to pledge their love and commitment through the civil institution of marriage. I believe that two committed adults of the same sex should be able to receive a government-issued marriage license, while religious institutions retain their right to determine which marriages they will perform.”
Anti-LGBT diatribes that were once the norm of the political right are now regarded as unacceptable. Reactions were quick and harsh against Dave Agema, a Republican National Committeeman and former Michigan legislator, who last week described us as “living a filthy lifestyle” and posted an article on his Facebook page that accuses gays of being diseased, alcoholic and responsible for half the murders in the country. His outrageous comments attracted national news and calls for his resignation, because Republicans fear his opinions are so far out of the mainstream that it will cost them votes and financial support, especially among young voters who overwhelmingly support LGBT rights and marriage equality.
Once upon a time it would have been only us calling for his resignation. Now it’s even people in his own party.
This Sunday BTL hosts the 3rd Annual Same Sex Wedding Expo at the Detroit Marriott Livonia. Hundreds of people will mingle with vendors, munch on great food and sip wine. Many will be planning their nuptials. Even though its not legal yet in Michigan, we can feel that the center of public opinion has already shifted in our favor, and with enough time and momentum what once felt like a fairy tale will become the real story of the LGBT rights movement – full marriage equality in all 50 states.