Words seemed inadequate at the news that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states last week. The images of that day were overwhelming — couples celebrating, James Obergefell standing on the steps of the court and the ultimate: the White House lit up in rainbow colors.
Who could have imagined such a scene 10 years ago when President Bush was cruelly and cynically running his re-election campaign on our backs?
But that feels like an eternity ago, a time when Democrats supported us privately but almost never in public. When a closeted Ken Mehlman pushed constitutional amendments in key battleground states to ban same-sex marriage and drive out conservative voters. When brave soldiers served from the closet.
And then came President Obama. No matter what you think of him or his policies on other issues, Obama’s push for LGBT equality will likely rank as his second biggest achievement and key part of his legacy, right after healthcare reform.
Obama has eloquently stood up to the hypocrites in his own party, to our opponents in the Republican Party and to the critics in the black church to push for equality. He publicly endorsed marriage equality before the 2012 election, when even LGBT advocates were privately hoping he’d wait until after Election Day to do so.
Of course, he didn’t do it alone. Last week’s victory was the culmination of a decades-long struggle pioneered by many brave and patient souls, including Evan Wolfson and Andrew Sullivan, among many others. But the real credit goes to everyday LGBT people who waged their own private and often thankless and difficult battles to come out and live honest lives. Forcing the world to see us as we are and not as hateful stereotypes is what ultimately enabled a sitting president to support us so openly. We must never forget the sacrifice of a generation of gay men who did not live to celebrate last week, who suffered and died while an indifferent government looked the other way. The AIDS epidemic forced many of us out of the closet and taught the survivors how to organize and fight effectively. The impact of the epidemic on last week’s victory can’t be overstated.
And now we must continue the fight and capitalize on the momentum of the moment. In too many states, you can still be fired for being gay or transgender. You can be denied housing or credit. Our youth are bullied and suffer disproportionately from homelessness. The transgender community suffers disproportionately from violence and unemployment. Too many young gay men, particularly men of color, are contracting HIV. Our LGBT elders are too often forced back into the closet.
We should continue pushing for comprehensive civil rights protections so that LGBT employees can be judged on their competence and not their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. And we must fight back against so-called religious freedom bills. The fact remains that 40 percent of Americans in recent polls remain opposed to our right to wed. That number will continue to fall, but judging from reactions on the right, we have much more work ahead in convincing fellow Americans that we deserve equality of opportunity.
And we shouldn’t be shy about it. The right is wrong when it comes to LGBT issues and we should tell them so. In a recent Fox News piece, Howard Kurtz claims the media owe anti-gay voices “tolerance.” Bullocks. The hate mongers of the right had their day and it’s mercifully over. A new generation and era have arrived and there’s no need to apologize for it. LGBT people have suffered long enough and have earned the right to celebrate and to see the country we love bathed in rainbow light.