Race to Justice
August 23, 2010 11:46 AM
Big movements in history are like large boulders moving down a gentle slope. It takes tremendous effort and a long time to get them going, but once they start down the hill they pick up steam and become impossible to stop.
That's the case when it comes to same sex marriage. As reported in Sunday's New York Times (you can read the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/weekinreview/22gay.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=same%20sex%20marriage&st=cse) for the first time ever polls taken this month show a majority of Americans supporting it. This is either lightening quick or way past time depending on how you want to look at it. As recently as three years ago that figure was only 36%, and in 1994 it was 25%. So, it took 13 years to move the dial 11 clicks and only three years to move it 14 more.
It's a nice coincidence that this turning point seems to have come in August of 2010 because it is exactly 90 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified providing suffrage to women in America. That was a similar movement, taking only a few years or several decades to arrive at success depending on when you view the starting point. A referendum rejected with 63% of the vote in 1913 was passed by the legislature just seven years later, making Wisconsin the first state in the union to adopt it (there was a good story about that in Sunday's State Journal and you can read that one at: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt_and_politics/article_fe0c6626-ad8e-11df-9a5b-001cc4c03286.html).
I had cause to reflect on all that this weekend as I joined in the annual Pride Parade down State Street. The parade used to be outrageous and challenging to popular culture and now it has become more or less another fun summer festival. The radical change that gays and lesbians are fighting for these days is simply to get the rest of society to formally recognize their commitments to one another. Commitments to build families, join the PTO, pay the mortgage and take care of one another into old age. As mayor, I support same sex marriage because it's these kinds of commitments that build a stronger community. Why we should want to throw up barriers to it is just beyond me.
It now seems clear that that simple demand for justice will be fulfilled sooner rather than later. A majority of people under 30 in every single state now supports same sex marriage. As they replace older voters, the truly outrageous laws prohibiting it will fall fast and hard into the dustbin of history where they belong. Much like the effort of suffragists a century ago, decades of hard work to get the boulder moving will pay off in a rapid gallop past the finish line.
At the end of the parade there were some speeches, but first there was the National Anthem. It was sung beautifully by the crowd on Library Mall, drifting on the wind passed the Red Gym and out over Lake Mendota. I have heard the anthem sung in perfunctory fashion at ball games, and I've heard it sung on other occasions almost in anger, a song like a fist. But when the Star Spangled Banner is sung reverently by a crowd of people who have not always been treated well by their country, it means something more. It's a song of hope. When it's sung by people who have not been allowed to really be full citizens of their country, the anthem is less about what America has delivered and more about what it promises to be. It's not about defending what we have, but about what we still have to gain.