One Giant Leap for Gay Rights

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Whitney Young, left, embraces her partner Marlena Blonsky as they listen to speeches at an election party in Seattle for proponents of Referendum 74, which would uphold the state's new same-sex marriage law.

Last night, as I sat in Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's campaign ballroom taking notes on her win, I turned to Twitter and was stunned to discover that Americans have moved farther and faster on marriage equality than I had dared to dream. Maine and Maryland voted to let same-sex couples marry; Washington state is poised to do the same; and voters in Minnesota defeated a measure that would have amended the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Maine voted in favor of equality 54 percent to 46 percent, in the first voter-initiated referendum to do so. Maryland passed marriage equality 52 percent to 48 percent. In Washington, with 50 percent of the votes recorded, marriage equality was ahead 52 percent to 48 percent. (That last one will take a week to before we get final results; Washington votes entirely by mail, and some of those ballots won’t even be received for days.)

I underestimated y’all, America. Marriage equality has passed the tipping point. While I was still predicting votes based on how things were three years ago, you all started talking about “marriage equality” as if it were as ordinary as sliced bread. When President Barack Obama said he had come around, the rest of you came around with him. There’s no turning back.

Before yesterday, the marriage-equality forces were 0 for 32 at the ballot box—voters had opted to ban gay marriage every time the issue had been put to them. But from here on, we will win—if not every time, then the overwhelming majority of the time. A few more predictions: This year, the Supreme Court will strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bans the federal government from recognizing my marriage and every other marriage between two people of the same sex performed in the states. During Obama’s second term—you watch—Congress will repeal the rest of DOMA, and Obama will sign it. In 2014, Oregon will be among the next wave of states to pass marriage equality at the ballot. I don’t know what other states are on the list, but within two years the majority of Americans will be living in equal-marriage states. By 2020, the majority of American states will be actively marrying same-sex couples. Not long thereafter, the Supreme Court will slap the remaining Southern states into line.

The momentum has shifted decisively. That sound was the fulcrum shifting, the big turn. 

In the Warren ballroom, I grabbed the arm of a major lesbian political insider here in Boston as she walked by and said, "We are winning all four. We’re crushing it." We grinned at each other like schoolchildren. We’ve both been in this town all our adult lives. She’s a political operative; I’m a dreamer who wrote about things that no one else believed could win, who published a book about same-sex marriage in the 1990s—before we’d won a single state. I asked, "Could you ever have imagined this was possible?" She answered, "I knew for a fact that it was not!" Back then, 20 years ago, she was trying to stop the marriage faction of the movement from getting anywhere lest the issue derail every other possibility for progress on LGBT rights. She was wrong then. I was wrong yesterday, when I thought that the marriage votes would go the way they had in the past. To everyone who has tweeted me about being an Eeyore: I have never in my life been so thrilled to be wrong.

The world has changed. Ten American states have declared that I’m a full human being, a full citizen, with the right to love. California is in the queue. The rest will come around within a few years. Thank you—so profoundly—to Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, and every one of you who voted to let your lesbian and gay friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family commit ourselves to the ones we love.

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