Nine years ago today, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. President George Bush called for a ban on same-sex marriage and insisted that the “sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges.”
Now, we await the decision of a “few activist judges” on the Supreme Court on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, three this month alone.
In 2005, conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly decried the Massachusetts judges who ruled in favor of gay marriage, saying that “you get the government you deserve,” and that in 10 years “laws that you think are set in stone — they’re gonna evaporate [...] you’ll be able to marry a goat.”
This year, O’Reilly admitted that the “compelling argument is on the side of the homosexuals [...] We’re Americans, we just want to be treated like everyone else.” He barely put up a fight, claiming that “the states should [determine] it,” and that he doesn’t “feel that strongly about it.”
In 2008, even California couldn’t manage to protect same-sex marriage via referendum, but in November 2012, Maine, Washington, and Maryland did just that.
The rhetoric, public opinion, and political climate have altered irrevocably in the past nine years. While opponents once called homosexuality an “abomination,” or a precursor to bestiality, today the preservation of traditional marriage, an institution “between a man and a woman,” is the opposition’s strongest argument.
The marriage-equality movement is also unique in that the LGBT community cuts across racial, political, and socioeconomic lines. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say that they have a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian, an 12% increase since 2007.
Increasingly, Americans are realizing that “the homosexuals” aren’t an evil menace threatening family values, but members of their own families, individuals they love and cherish, individuals they believe have the right to marry and start a family of their own.
In April, Rob Portman (R-Ohio) became the first Republican senator to endorse marriage equality two years after his son came out to him, claiming, “It allowed me to think about this issue from a new perspective, and that’s as a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister have.”
The shift can be witnessed in infamously homophobic arenas as well. Hip-hop icons Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Macklemore, and A$AP Rocky have all showed support for LGBT rights. After Frank Ocean came out, Tyler the Creator expressed his support, claiming that he was “proud” because “that shit is difficult or whatever.” Even more recently, NBA center Jason Collins came out, a move that 68% of Americans supported.
Marriage equality and endorsements from public figures are invaluable, and symbolic of a cultural shift, but they are part of a much greater movement that demands much more than political recognition. Hate crimes and bullying persist. Same-sex couples continue to face discrimination in adoption and immigration. Family rejection contributes to higher rates of depression, substance abuse, suicide, and homelessness for LGBT youth. While the acceleration of the marriage equality movement and the progression of LGBT rights in our nation is cause for celebration, the fight for equality is nowhere near finished.