As of today, about 95 million of us live in states where marriage equality prevails. We can realistically expect to pick up a few more states soon -- Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon look likely. At that point, about half the population will discover through experience that gay marriage has no social downsides.
Yesterday's Supreme Court decision that overturns DOMA --the federal "Defense of Marriage Act"-- is a genuine BFD. There are some 1000+ federal legal provisions that apply to legally recognized spouses -- such items as shared health insurance coverage, the chance to file joint taxes, and passing on pensions and Social Security to surviving spouses. States have been able to legalize gay marriage and 12 have, but so long as DOMA prevailed, none of those everyday benefits reached married gay couples. As of today they do. The New York Times has a good run down of the legal changes.
A nice side effect of overturning DOMA is that binational married gay couples will have the same rights relating to immigration as other married people. Republicans flirting with reform warned that including gays in the proposed immigration bill was a "poison pill" that would kill their tentative support. The Supreme Court decision means that, if there is immigration reform, married gays will be automatically included.
The half step forward is the decision to allow the lower court decision to stand re-legalizing gay marriage in California. We were firmly on track to win this one way or another -- at the ballot box in 2014 if worst came to worst. But winning in court sure saves a lot of money and work.
But it is hard for me to join the cheering over these positive legal developments the day after the same court gave the go-ahead to whatever ingenious measures Republicans come up with to try to hold back the rising tide of Black and Brown votes. The party of resentful old white people (Dems get the more cheerful old white people of whom there are some!) will do whatever it can to reduce participation by people they fear. TPM reports
It would be great if this were a country where everyone affirmed and encouraged democratic political participation by all citizens, but we aren't that kind of country. Our professed civic ideals can prove mighty feeble when power and privilege are at stake. The Voting Rights Act helped give everyone a chance; a partisan court has killed it.
This development poses a question for a gay community that's on a winning roll -- now that marriage equality and full civic equality seem only a matter of (short) time, we will be there for those who have been our allies in the broader struggle for equal rights and justice? This is perhaps the most significant challenge facing LGBT people over the next decade. Will we remember which side we must be on and who is there with us?
I have often written, cynically and/or resignedly, that the signal indicator that a movement for civil rights has succeeded comes when its beneficiaries feel safe enough to relax into the economic, class, and social status positions they would have enjoyed if they hadn't been disadvantaged by gender, religion, race or sexual orientation. The LGBT movement has worked hard at understanding the multitude of ways that some of our members experience discrimination on top of being gay. We've begun to work cooperatively with others who need allies. Will we lose this as our own issues seem less urgent?
Freedom can mean not only relief from imposed restrictions, but also the freedom to join the exploiters and oppressors. Alternatively, freedom can be used to spread freedom and dignity even more widely. Gays have more choices about this than we did yesterday.
At least for awhile, it would be great to see the bulk of the gay movement remembering that none of us succeed alone. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer