Gay Rights Lost the Battle, But Can Still Win The War

“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” – George Washington

Note: This is a pre-DADT Repeal post from another blog.

Despite the best efforts of President Obama, gay rights activists, and Lady Gaga Herself, Senate Democrats in support of the Defense Reauthorization Bill failed to enact broad legislation which would, among other things, successfully repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But Tuesday’s close 56-43 vote, while disappointing, does not mean the endof the modern gay rights movement.

In fact, it seems almost a mere bump in the long but increasingly successful road to equality that supporters have been actively paving for decades. Just within the last year, activists have gained high-status lobbying partners, public officials have begun to show more outward support for equal rights, and there has been a significant shift in public opinion toward LGBT issues.

In 2009, Iowa became a catalyst as the third state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire quickly followed suit, bringing the count to six states in which same-sex couples can legally wed. The District of Columbia also came on board, and began performing marriages earlier this year. Most of these decisions were followed by a commanding backlash, but while many states were rushing to amend their constitutions to prohibit gay marriage, several others were passing civil union and domestic partnership laws, granting gay couples the same rights provided to straight married couples.

And that’s just the beginning. In 2006, Arizona (home of such staunch conservatives as John McCain and Jan Brewer) became the first state in which a constitutional ban on gay marriage failed by popular vote. Though California’s ballot initiative, the infamous Proposition 8, was successfully passed, activists everywhere were celebrating last month when a Reagan/Bush-appointed federal judge struck down the law, declaring it unconstitutional.

Just one month earlier, a different federal judge invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute which dictated that only male to female marriages could be legally recognized. Then, a few short weeks ago, yet another federal judge declared the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy an unconstitutional infringement upon the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian soldiers. The momentum from this landmark decision prompted activists across the country to call for a legislative repeal of the policy, even garnering outspoken support from Lady Gaga, one of the world’s most recognized celebrities.

All of these steps toward equality have, however, also forced the hand of faith-based organizations and interest groups. In the past several months, coalitions of Catholics and other institutes of faith have poured money into the National Organization for Marriage, which, in turn, has funneled the cash into various efforts to fight back against these marriage decisions. The organization dropped almost a quarter of a million dollars in Iowa alone, producing massive ad campaigns against the justices who handed down the unanimous decision.

These organizations also have allies in many public officials, including hard-liner conservatives like Senator John McCain. Allies who, on Tuesday, filibustered into submission any chance at a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, proving that the gay rights movement is still very much an uphill battle. But while those citizens who oppose gay marriage are still in the majority, studies by the PEW research forum show that the gap is narrowing. Over the last ten years, support for legalization has increased by 10%, and those who support civil unions are in an even larger majority than those who oppose gay marriage. So, while the gay rights movement is still met by serious religious opposition, the growing force behind it and the marked shift in public opinion shows that this fight is not a lost cause. Not even close.

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