Keep Riding the Wave but Look out for the Undertow!

By Kim Dugan

Has the LGBT movement made great strides in recent years? Without a doubt, yes! Has the “tide turned” for the LGBT Movement? A resounding no!

Clearly the LGBT movement has been experiencing a wave of considerable legal and cultural gains.  Lately, there have been many states passing or on the verge of passing marriage for same-sex partners.  According to Freedom to Marry, six states and DC afford marriage equality to same sex couples. The states of Washington and Maryland will potentially be added to this growing list (assuming victory against the anti-gay forces who are currently working to stop the enactments on the upcoming November ballot).  Further, New Jersey finally passed legislation in favor of marriage equality. While it was quickly vetoed by its governor, mobilizing efforts to overturn this action have already begun.  Several other states afford some lesser version of marriage equality (Freedom to Marry 2012).

In addition to gains in marriage equality and relationship recognition more broadly defined, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (2012) reported that 21 states and DC have state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with 16 of them also offering protection on the basis of gender identity and expression. A great number of these states either initially passed the law in the 2000s or updated their legislation to include gender identity and expression. In any event the pace of legislation has accelerated considerably.

Perhaps the LGBT movement has had its greatest impact on the mainstream American public. As of May 2011, the Gallup poll found that the majority (53%) of Americans now favor marriage equality.  This was a significant change from years prior. Not surprisingly, the largest change occurred among Democrats and Independents, while Republicans showed no change at all.  While a strong majority of Democrats and Independents support same sex marriage, just over one fourth of Republicans (28%) indicated their support (Newport 2011).  Given these numbers the likelihood that a Republican presidential candidate would come out as a supporter of marriage equality seems remote.

The current Republican campaign has been relatively quiet on same sex marriage and LGBT rights.  Rather than see this as a positive moment for the LGBT movement, I would argue, in fact, that this absence of dialogue on LGBT issues speaks to the level of dominance of the anti-gay view within the party.  Before the LGBT movement pauses too long to bask in its recent victories, it must bear in mind the fortitude and ferocity of the Christian Right and their continued dominance within the ranks of the Republican party. While the debate on issues such as marriage equality may be muted in the campaigning, the extreme anti-gay movement finds familiar ways to promote their agenda. Take for instance Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum’s recent appearance on “This Week” with George Stephanopolous clarifying his view on the separation of church and state where he clearly states that the two were not intended to be separate (Horowitz 2012).  There is simply no need to debate marriage equality and/or LGBT rights explicitly when the simple mention of religion and homosexuality represents and invokes vehement opposition.  To the anti-gay Christian right, the Bible is the absolute and final word and their interpretation of the Bible is that it is clear and firm in its disapproval of homosexuality, period.

Another way that they promote their antigay agenda is to frame marriage equality as an attack on religion. Take the example of The National Organization for Marriage that states as its tagline on its homepage: “Protecting Marriage and the Faith Communities that Sustain it”!  Marriage and faith communities need protection against whom? According to this leading organization for the anti-marriage equality movement, same sex marriage is viewed as a threat not only to marriage but also to religious freedom and faith in general. Gibson (2012) recently reported in the HuffPost that conservative religious leaders pulled together to draft an open letter warning about the threat to religion that same sex marriage brings.  The largest concern of these clergy of various denominations is that they would be forced to consider all couples as equals in marriage. In fact in the original letter itself  (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2012) they refer to this “church-state conflict” that will “bear serious consequences.”

Anti-gay forces wield considerable resources in their efforts to thwart LGBT rights. Their reach extends across numerous denominations, pulpits, pews and piggy banks.  They fund anti-marriage efforts such as the battle waged for the ballot vote on California’s Proposition 8 (Sullivan 2008). It is well known that this campaign received millions of dollars from the Church of Latter Day Saints based out of Utah to get the issue on the ballot and passed by voters.

Beyond the funding, the right can claim success over and over again with the voting public.   The value of the democratic process and the power of the vote have long been emphasized in the U.S. It’s easy then to empathize and support a campaign dedicated to get an issue on the ballot. But, once on the ballot, issues promoting rights or acceptance of LGBT issues tend to fail, with few exceptions (see Stone 2012). Pro-equality forces know to avoid the ballot box.

The facts are that the Right has financial wealth that brings enormous power, they readily reach the masses through the church, and they utilize a strategy that resonates with middle Americans. These points illustrate that the tide has surely not turned.  Rather, the movement must continue as if success is far away.  The strength and dominance of absolutist religion in politics, in the Republican Party in particular, make it a well situated and formidable opponent.


Freedom to marry. 2012. “State by State.” Retrieved from

Gibson, David. 2012. “Same-Sex Marriage Threatens Religious Freedom According To Religious Leaders” HuffPost Religion.   Retrieved from

Horowitz, Alana. 2012 (February 26). “Santorum: Separation Of Church And State ‘Makes Me Want To Throw Up’” Huffington Post,  HuffPost Politics. Retrieved from

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. 2012 (January 20). “State Nondiscrimination Laws in the U.S. “ Issue Map.  Retrieved from

National Organization for Marriage. 2012. Retrieved from

Newport, Frank. 2011 (May 20). “For First Time, Majority of Americans Favor Legal Gay Marriage Republicans and older Americans remain opposed”. Gallup Poll, Retrieved from

Stone, Amy. 2012. Gay Rights at the Ballot Box. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota press.

Sullivan, Andrew.  2008 (October 23). “Mormon Money Behind Proposition 8.” The Atlantic, Daily dish. Retrieved from

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 2012. (January 12). “Marriage and Religious Freedom:  Fundamental Goods that Stand or Fall Together, An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans.”  Retrieved from

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, LGBT Activism: Has the Tide Turned?

One response to “Keep Riding the Wave but Look out for the Undertow!

  1. Theresa

    Before reading this blog it hadn’t even occurred to me that the Republican party has been so quiet on this issue. I didn’t even notice the silence! Goes to show silence can be deadly. I enjoyed reading this blog. Thanks!


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