As we go to press, the country’s gays and lesbians are holding their breath for the announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on Constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and the California’s Proposition 8. We are calling it Q-Day here, perhaps for obvious reasons. Some fear mass revolt should the justices not fall our way. Others fear not enough reaction.
We must remember, however, that any decision — good or bad — is not the end of our journey towards full equality. When the Court ruled in 1896 that restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other public accommodations must serve black people equally, albeit separate was tolerated, that did not mark the end of racial strife.
When the Court said in 1923 that states could not ban the teaching of foreign languages in schools, that did not end the “English Only” debate.
In 1950, the Court struck down segregation of public schools and in 1954 ended “separate but equal” public schools. There wasn’t a sudden shift of the public more that teaching students of different races side-by-side was okeydokey with them.
No, where actual change is made is in the hearts and minds of the general public. In that arena, we are making progress, but it remains slow and steady.
Just this month we have had a roller coaster ride of steps forward and steps back. The Boy Scouts of America made a monumental shift and now allows gay boys to be members, but will still kick them out when they turn 18. Immigration Reform is making its greatest strides since 1986, but the Uniting American Families Amendment that would have allowed foreign partners in gay or lesbian relationships the same ability to obtain permanent residence as heterosexual couples was excluded from the Gang of Eight’s Bill and the Senate Judicial Committee’s markup. Gay marriage will be legal in Minnesota August 1, but yet the Illinois House didn’t even progress to a vote on a marriage measure. Areas of the country are seeing a rash of hate crimes that hasn’t seen since the 1980s. And internationally, many countries are heading in quite the wrong direction.
But poll after poll of Americans is showing greater and greater support of gay rights, especially in the arena of marriage. People are starting to get it, and even in the most conservative of areas, people know that gay and lesbian marriage is inevitable. When Proposition 8 was on the ballot just a few short years ago, merely a 4 percent difference separated Californians who favored gay marriage and those who opposed it. Today, 58 percent of Californians support gay marriage compared to 36 percent opposed — a 22 percent difference. That was a change over just five years.
Even in Utah, even in a poll done by Brigham Young University, a full 71 percent of Utah voters support some kind of legal recognition for same-sex couples. Only 29 percent agree with full gay marriage, but only another 29 percent disagree with any legal recognition at all. The rest fall into the “civil union” category — what some call “separate but equal.”
So, yes, some important decisions are causing many to chew their nails to the bone, but in the end, these decisions are merely another milepost along our great journey. Q