A new pro-gay-marriage ad put out by the Respect for Marriage Coalition featuring a bipartisan cast including Barack Obama, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell signals that the times are a-changin’ with respect to same-sex marriage. The ad is just one of many signs that elected officials, prominent public figures, and Americans themselves are beginning to embrace the idea of same-sex marriage being recognized under the law.
The Respect for Marriage Coalition is led by the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry. It is made up of 80 organizations that support recognizing marriage as more than a union of a man and a woman. The Coalition works to raise awareness about the injustice of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed in 1996 that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, although several states have passed laws allowing same-sex couples to marry. A case challenging DOMA will be heard by the US Supreme Court this spring, and is likely to decide the case by June 2013.
There was a bit of a plot twist that occurred yesterday when former First Lady Laura Bush, originally a cast member in the ad, requested to be removed from it it. According to a spokeswoman for the former first lady, Mrs. Bush was not aware that her sound byte was being used in the ad. Upon becoming aware of the pro-gay television, newspaper, and online ad, Mrs. Bush asked that her appearance be removed. Whether or not she wants to be featured in the advertisement is, of course, her prerogative.
However, the fact remains that Mrs. Bush did say, in a 2010 interview with Larry King, that "When couples are committed to each other and love each other, then they ought to have the same sort of rights everyone has." This is a clear endorsement of same-sex marriage. Furthermore, it is not as if her husband’s conservative legacy would have been tarnished, as his former vice president and secretary of defense remain in the ad.
Regardless of what Mrs. Bush chooses, bipartisan support for same-sex marriage is clear, and the ad will have its intended impact with or without her presence. The Respect for Marriage Coalition says that they are "sorry" that Mrs. Bush asked that she be omitted from the ad, but that they will look elsewhere for new personalities and endorsements.
Not only is the Coalition working to sway public attitudes, but it is also passing legislation to change laws. The Respect for Marriage Act, initially introduced by Representative Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) in 2009, did not gain support that year, but was reintroduced and well-received in 2011. It is important to point out that the content of the bill did not change between 2009 and 2011; this shows how much Americans’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage have evolved in recent years.
Even more recently, we see additional proof of changing attitudes towards gay rights in the U.S. The Obama Administration’s endorsement of same-sex marriage in 2012 and the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in Washington, Maryland, and Maine after the 2012 election, speak to an accelerated shift in public opinion.
Perhaps we are in the midst of what will be remembered as a focal event, a transformation of societal norms. In today’s contentious political climate, it is unusual and certainly noteworthy for bipartisan coalitions to be formed. While we obviously still have a good way to go, new developments are constantly occurring; refer to my previous article on same-sex marriage in Illinois. Times change and so do we. Although our system is broken in so many ways, this is a source of optimism and hope that we still can achieve change that allows us to progress as a people and a nation.