“I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” That simple statement by President Obama on Wednesday is a historic turning point for our nation. It is both a culmination and a launching point of a new American civil rights revolution.
The movement for gay and lesbian equality in all spheres of life, emerging in the 1970s, has become a mainstream movement, as more and more gays and lesbians have courageously “come out of the closet,” often with great personal sacrifice. Same-sex couples too have gone public and, with their compelling stories of long-term loving relationships, moved the nation.
A growing number of states have recognized same-sex relationships, whether through civil unions or marriage itself. And there has been an evolving shift in overall public opinion, with a majority favoring marriage equality.
Yes there has been a backlash by the far-right. Thirty states – with North Carolina the latest – have passed amendments to their constitutions barring same-sex marriage. But the tide is turning toward equality.
This movement, like the women’s equality movement, stands on the shoulders of the great civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
Actress Tyne Daley said a few years ago, “When I got married [in 1986 to African American actor Georg Stanford Brown], my marriage was illegal in seven states in this country. … Government can’t dictate hearts and minds. But it can decide law, and when laws change, other things change.”
Racist Jim Crow laws seemed enshrined forever, but they were overcome – by a mass movement, courageous individuals, and leaders who were able to galvanize the nation and transform public sentiment.
Obama’s statement this week was bold, gutsy and the right thing to do. And that’s what the American people want. Whether or not they personally support gay marriage or regardless of what they think about homosexuality, most Americans favor fairness and rights. And they will admire a president who stands up for these things.