Looking at recent advances on the freedom to marry it seems the “love that dare not speak its name” has become the love that politically can’t be stopped.
In February alone, marriage bills were passed by legislatures in Maryland, New Jersey and Washington State, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that found that California’s Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution and groups in Maine have announced that they are going to the ballot to win the freedom to marry.
In many ways it seems after so many years of playing defense, fighting against anti-gay ballot campaigns and attempts by conservatives to add anti-gay language to the U.S. Constitution that the LGBT movement is finally on offense.
But, even as LGBT issues and storylines are featured on television shows such as Glee and Modern Family, gay soldiers are serving openly and mainstream news programs are covering issues such as school bullying, we are defending ourselves against efforts to put our rights up to a public vote and legislators working to repeal existing marriage laws.
In Maryland and Washington, anti-gay organizations like the so-called National Organization for Marriage are working to repeal marriage at the ballot. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has vetoed the bill that passed the NJ legislature forcing advocacy groups and legislators to redouble their efforts in order to overturn his veto. In New Hampshire, conservative lawmakers are also working to repeal the state’s popular marriage law, forcing our side to work twice as hard in order to ensure that the freedom to marry isn’t stripped away. In Minnesota and North Carolina, the LGBT communities are fighting attempts to enshrine discrimination into those state constitutions.
We haven’t yet reached a tipping point, but we have indeed reached a turning point in which issues of LGBT equality are increasingly seen as mainstream. An important element adding fuel to the LGBT political fire, amplifying LGBT voices, and reshaping the movement is the rapid rise of social media. By using the Internet as a means to organize and to tell our personal stories, we have in some ways moved past the media filter to make our case directly to the American people.
In years past our basic freedoms were voted on with discriminatory ballot measures and legislative measures promoted by well funded anti-gay organizations that were able to demonize LGBT people and our families; we now are regularly front and center, making headlines on- and offline.
LGBT civil rights, including the freedom to marry, are becoming so mainstream that they are seen as positive stances for future presidential candidates.
As Reid Wilson said in a National Journal article on marriage and the Democratic Party:
“After decades of avoiding what was once a toxic issue, Democrats are on the verge of establishing a new litmus test, one that will demonstrate just how quickly and dramatically the political landscape will change: When a new crop of Democrats run for the White House in 2016, the top contenders will likely all embrace same-sex marriage the way Republicans embrace a pro-life stand.”
That’s part of what makes 2012 such a crucial year in the fight for LGBT equality. We have the opportunity to add as many as three states to the freedom to marry column, win our first defensive and pro-marriage ballot campaigns and grow the current majority of Americans who support marriage for same-sex couples.
Winning on marriage in 2012 will set the stage for unparalleled advancement on a wide range of issues impacting the LGBT community including employment non-discrimination, anti-bullying and health issues.
Currently, gay, lesbian and bisexual people can be fired in 29 states and transgender people can be fired in 34 states. LGBT and questioning youth face daily harassment and in some cases violence because of who they are. Transgender Americans continue to be denied coverage for necessary health related needs.
As more states adopt marriage for same-sex couples, additional pressure will be placed on the federal and state governments to pass non-discrimination, anti-bullying and other critical legislation.
The national conversation occurring now around marriage — along with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — is having the effect of humanizing LGBT people in a similarly dramatic fashion to the way stories about the AIDS epidemic have had in humanizing gay men. With this increased humanization, more and more Americans will support our full inclusion in the American family and support LGBT civil rights legislation.
Advocacy groups have done critical work to bring us to this point, especially by telling the stories of LGBT people, but the most critical factor, which will only get stronger, is LGBT people coming out of the closet at an increasing rate and publicly asking friends and family to stand with us in our fight for full equality.
The explosion in the adoption of digital platforms such as blogs, Facebook and YouTube has enabled LGBT people whether connected to organizations or not to able to tell their personal stories and organize friends and strangers alike into mini-movements that advance community goals and propel us forward. One example of this is the It Gets Better campaign, which was created independently of an organization and through user-generated videos has grown into the arguably most vibrant public education on any LGBT issue.
It Gets Better put an incredibly human face on the issue of anti-LGBT bullying and gave LGBT people and straight allies a tangible way to connect and send messages of hope to LGBT youth struggling with their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The new global LGBT advocacy organization All Out is another example of how the movement’s use of digital tools is enabling activists to rapidly build movements to scale large enough to have a serious impact. By aggregating the voices of many individuals across the globe and mobilizing them at key moments, All Out has been able to bring to the forefront LGBT fights in countries as diverse as Brazil, Russia, Sweden and Uganda.
As these two examples show, digital tools offer the LGBT movement the opportunity to scale mass movements in real time. These tools combined with the rapidly changing political landscape as more people, LGBT and allied, stand up for equality give activists the chance to turbo charge the movement in ways that will enable us to turn the promise of 2012 into the tipping point that we all hope for.