... Domestically attached.
In retrospect, the real turning point was our successful struggle for the freedom to marry. Touched off by our victory in Hawaii and then other states, the marriage fight throughout the 1990s gave us the opportunity to engage nongay people in a pervasive and sustained discussion of our lives in a rich vocabulary of love, commitment, family, and equality. Recognizing how transformative our winning the freedom to marry would be, the right wing attacked us as never before on the supposedly "unwinnable issue" of marriage.
Our opponents were scared to death of what indeed happened: Marriage got nongay people's attention, giving us the chance to pierce the stereotypes and silence that kept us back, winning them over person by person, approach by approach, as the legal work advanced.
Sure enough, we took a few hits we didn't need to take, in part because the backlash began before we had lashed, and also, to be honest, because it took a while for many of our own groups and allies to get into the fight. But once they did (in 1996 we had already beaten back-antimarriage bills in 21 of the 37 states that proposed them, and we were defeating most of the second round of bills thrown at us again in 1997), it became clear that we could and would succeed in getting nongay groups and allies, including religious leaders, to support us.
Now we can see how it unfolded: the final win in Hawaii in 1997, the successful mobilization to defend the Hawaii constitution against the right-wing amendment proposal in the November 1998 election, the critical mass of other states where lawfully married couples found recognition and respect, and the next few breakthrough states where we won marriage rights outright--all of these accompanied the waves of litigation over the next several years as couples were forced to fight to protect their marriages and their families against federal and state antimarriage laws.
The handful of pro-marriage-recognition cases by multistate corporations, businesses, creditors, and insurers, who went to court when they found themselves tied in knots by the right-wing patchwork of nonrecognition laws, vividly demonstrated that discrimination in marriage affected not just the couples and their kids but also others interacting with them. The harder we fought for marriage, the more we saw even our opponents conceding that we should have other forms of family recognition, legal benefits, and partnership rights.
By the time attorneys from Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund stood in the Supreme Court and argued against what our enemies had created with their antimarriage laws, most Americans agreed with us that just as we shouldn't have second-class citizens in this country, so we should not have second-class marriages.
Looking back, I believe now that even before we won in the Supreme Court, we had won in the food court, as more and more nongay people, particularly younger people, took the position that government should butt out of couples' lives.
Once gay groups and leaders got their act together, stopped resisting the marriage moment, and figured out how to get out there and talk to the nongay persuadable public, it turned out that the public was listening and reachable. Just as in the Hawaii trial, we talked about our kids, about the separation of church and state, about lesbian and gay youth (who all the while were listening to the powerful public debate in legislatures and the media), and about commitment, responsibility, and equality.
People were moved by the stories they began to hear of how the denial of marriage harmed real-life families shut out of protections in health care, immigration, parenting, divorce, tax and government benefits, and all that comes with civil marriage. With significant support from nongay allies and fair-minded people, lesbian and gay activists brought an end to sex discrimination in marriage, just as other champions of equality had brought an end to race discrimination in marriage in 1967.
We also gave a big push to a fairer allocation of benefits in general--I give the marriage discussions real credit for helping this country usher in universal health care just a few years later.
Of course, no one victory or defeat, no one battle or case, does it all. Still, because we won marriage, we transformed our position in society and at the same time brought renewed focus to and support for equal access to family protections and benefits and support for children in various families.
And while there are many who still won't come to our weddings, most agree that we should be allowed to get married. From there it was a small step for them to realize that if our love is the kind of love worthy of equality, worthy of marriage, there isn't much of a reason for other discrimination against us.
And now, with legal protections established, inclusion secured, and diversity even valued by many, for most Americans, it isn't that big a deal. Oh, yes ... and, like nongay men and women, most gay people in 2027 do get married or at least are looking. Which reminds me--know anyone?
Wolfson is director of the Marriage Project at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
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|Title Annotation:||legalizing same-sex marriage in the future|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Oct 14, 1997|
|Previous Article:||The psychology of diversity.|
|Next Article:||Tomorrow's togetherness.|