Victory is what happens while you're busy making other plans

As someone who entered the marriage debate around the time we won and were fighting to maintain our first marriage state (Mass.), I've seen my share of hubbub.  I've watched endless legislative squabbles that have culminated in sometimes jubilant and other times heartbreaking votes.  I've covered and/or participated in countless rallies thrown by organizations both for and against equality.  I've worked with state ballot campaigns and have been at election night parties where the band turned both more and less upbeat as the night's returns came in.  And I've certainly spent many hours hitting the refresh button on my computer waiting for various courts to issue various marriage opinions.

There's always a lot of build-up to these sorts of days.  Commentators from all sides predict what will happen when the lawmakers, judges, or citizens have their say.  Conference calls detail every last aspect of this march or that rally.  Campaign managers spin the good and the bad as they fill the airwaves with endless commercials selling what they hope will be winning messages.  And so on.  If you're even somewhat interested in LGBT politics, it's hard to avoid hearing about these big ticket events, when folks march outside the Supreme Court, major rulings come down, or vote results are tallied.  They buzz with excitement, these days.

And then there are the other days.  The days, for instance, when you are feeding your kid, lazily trying to shake yourself out of weekend mode so that you can even concern yourself with work realities, when your phone buzzes the big morning headline your way. Days like Monday, October, 6, when the headline went something like, "Supreme Court Clears Way To Marriage In As Many As 35 States."

What?  Huh?  How?

I had to re-read that headline a few times before even getting into the story itself.  Not just because the news, with a suggested state count so high, was so monumentally awesome for an equality lover and longtime movement laborer like myself.  My inability to comprehend the message was more because it came so out of the blue.  I hadn't been forewarned to expect this result, as I often am with the big news items.  I didn't know to be looking for this monumental happening, on this day, at this hour.  Sure, all political watchers had a vague idea that the Supreme Court could act in some manner this fall.  But not necessarily like this, and not necessarily at this time.  I certainly wasn't prepared for it.

I tell you this not because I think my own experience with this recent history speaks for everyone or because I think you should have keen interest in how I spent this one particular Monday in early October.  I recount this experience, where amazing things happened almost in the background rather than in the spotlight, because I think it speaks to the overall trajectory of this fight—and how its winding down in the way it absolutely should wind down.

 

From the moment the Goodridge decision of 2003 opened the door to marriage equality in Massachusetts until around the time the US Supreme Court handed down the historic DOMA and Prop 8 decisions in the summer of 2013, the same-sex marriage fight was among the most examined in recent memory.  There aren't very many politicos, in any area of involvement, who sat this one out, at least not in full.  Opinionated citizens, both professional and lay, spent the greater part of that decade's time trying to move the needle in one direction or the other.  

Outside of the media space, there are the everyday men and women who, regardless of their own involvement in the process, spent so many days during this span of time waiting to see if they would become more or less equal.  For those of us with actual rights at stake, these days, when court rulings came down, bills were up for debate, or elections were held, were deep days of reflection regarding our country.  A debate about our homes, on both the micro and macro scale.  The whole thing put many psyches on a great and tumultuous roller coaster that is unique to those who've never had to experience it.

And what about the time, energy, and resources?  Not only has this debate waged a high mental toll, but it has also come at a significant cost on a monetary scale.  Any time the other side chose to put our rights on a ballot, both the right and wrong sides of history were forced to pony up a heck of a lot of cash in order to duke it out in public.  The same goes for rallies and salaries and public information campaigns.  Here during a very tempestuous time for our country and our world, as well as a time of great financial crisis, we Americans dedicated untold hours and outsized riches to a matter that never really should've been up for debate in the first place. 

Shouldn't have been but had to be.  Because when a band of self-appointed activists chooses to go hostile on a minority population's rights, debate does in fact ensue.  They stepped up, so we stepped up.  They created networks and campaigns and efforts to shape public opinion, so we countered.  And before you know it, this conversation, which the media always found to be "sexier" than other political matters ("sorry, tort reform, but call us when your talking points make for angrier signs; same for you, Earth's dwindling water supply!"), became one of the more inescapable public debates of our generation.  This despite the fact that the other side just repeated its same tired lines for an entire decade, but I digress.

My point is that this debate was super high profile or a very long time.  It ate at a lot of people in a lot of ways.

But then something happened almost immediately after those huge Supreme Court victories in June of 2013.  Yes, at first there was even more coverage than before, with everyone again going public with their takes on what these decisions supposedly did or did not mean.  But even at the very beginning, right there on the day the decisions came down, something felt different.  It was kind of like both sides began to realize that most of the public sparring was now behind us.  We had made our cases and the rest of it was already in motion.  

Couple this with the fact that our president had come out for equality and earned reelection, a bipartisan majority of US Senators had come to be on record as marriage equality supporters, and all credible polling consistently showing a majority of Americans as being on board with fairness, and you had a pretty good set of circumstances for those of us who always knew that this was a fight we would eventually win.  The summer of 2013 was jubilant, first and foremost.  But it also felt very unique.  Special.  It felt like it was set apart from any of the major developments that had come before.  It didn't feel final; that would be an overstatement.  It did, however, feel like we had moved into a third act.

And it was a new act.  As we made our way into fall and then into the next calendar year, we kept picking up new states with no real losses to speak of.  We fended off an attempt to ban us in Indiana.  We saw attorneys general in states that had yet to achieve equality stepping up and saying they would no longer defend discrimination.  We even saw Republican governors who are on record as opponents refusing to pursue any action when a court proceeded to bring equality to their states.  On our side (i.e. the good and decent and right side of this fight) there was an abundance of political and personal will, and on the other side (i.e. the ones who made the wrong calculation, though there is hope for those who seek repentance from the anti-equality lifestyle) there was virtually none.  Outside of the usual suspects, we heard and saw almost no pushback to these very major developments in favor of equality. 

During this 2013–2014 phase, things were not only becoming more equal and more awesome, but they were also becoming more settled.

 

Which brings me back to October 6 of this year.  The headlines on that morning suggested that we would, in one swoop, go from nineteen states to around thirty-five.  In the nine days since, we have already made it up to thirty states and counting (*UPDATE: We've gained two more since the writing of this post; we're now at thirty-two).  Some of these states are even deep red, like Utah and Oklahoma.

And what's happened?  Barely a peep of opposition!  Yes, there's been a plethora of anger from Tony Perkins and Bryan Fischer and the National Organization For Marriage.  We're getting the same defiance and outrage and entitlement and spin that we all knew to expect from these groups.  But these are special interest organizations and paid laborers for this movement.  This is what they do.  It would be weird if they didn't speak out in opposition.

But where it matters is in the heartland.  Had everyday Americans' instincts driven them out in the streets to protest and America that now has a majority of US States with the freedom to marry, that would have been a statement.  Had governors puffed up their chests and refused to let these marriages take effect, that would have been something.  Had credible conservative commentators wasted time with more defiance, that would have suggested that there's still an audience hungry for that kind of show, since these kinds of outlets tend to run headfirst into controversies they can drum up.  But none of these things happened.  There hasn't been even one report or photo of any sort of protest in any state.  Governors like North Carolina's Pat McCrory are telling citizens that it's time to move on and time for "healing."  And when it comes to the media, no less of a conservative voice than Fox News' Brit Hume admitted, even while reiterating his own personal resistance, that the debate is "basically over" since there "is no political momentum" on the anti- side.

In fact, when hilariously over-the-top anti-LGBT activist Peter LaBarberba suggested that his supporters should take to the streets in "civil disobedience," the scoffs were loud and long.  And this time, it wasn't just because Peter's rhetoric is so inherently laughable.  I mean, Pete's hyperbole is still inherently laughable, let's be clear about that.  But with this one, his words wwere also just so drastically out of touch with the nation of now that it was almost like he was mocking himself with his apparent belief that he has the power, principle, and capital for this kind of rally cry.  Just the idea that he could recruit these huge mobs was as much of a joke as the idea that he should want to.  

And then there was Mike Huckabee.  When the former Arkansas governor, former presidential candidate, and current Fox News host vowed to leave the Republican party unless it steps up and fights harder against equality, he probably thought he was sparking a new movement.  Instead, he got a lot of people who were like, "Peace out, Mikey; don't let the door Huck ya in the bee on the way out."  Including Republican people.  Writer Justin Haskins framed it this way:

Huckabee is right that many in the Republican Party, especially younger members like myself, no longer believe that the government should be enacting laws that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman only. What Huckabee and many other social conservatives like him do not understand is that the reason a growing number of conservatives are rejecting the typical social conservative agenda has little to do with political correctness or fear that society may reject them. It's not about politics; it's all about liberty. [Reason.com]

Liberty. Indeed.  

And that's another reason why a growing majority of Americans refuse to see marriage equality as something to protest: because this growing majority doesn't even see it through the contrived political lens that first focused in on this fight.  With courts driving home crucial points about freedom with every new ruling and same-sex couples, both famous and everyday, filling social media with loving wedding photos teeming with happy family and friends, people are rightly moving this conversation away from right versus left.  Increasingly, it begins and ends at right versus wrong.

A definitive, fifty state Supreme Court ruling would be great, and we could very well get one, and soon. As a movement, we certainly will not rest until every state and every citizen has this crucial freedom.  That is a promise.  Right now we are still living under a delay, which means we are still living under denial.

But on a cultural level, the fact that it's all now kind of happening without major fanfare is, to me, kind of perfect.   This has always been a conversation about the greater peace.  About more love.  About expanding family values, not constricting them.  The fight was always much louder than it would've been had we been able to focus on the purposeful civil rights in question rather than the noise of condemnation.  The fight was always unnecessary, at least in a more perfect world.

I was thinking of saying here that we're moving toward that more perfect world, but I think that might be wrong.  Since last week, I think we actually might already be there. Just at the beginning of it, yes.  And there's still a path ahead.  But for the first time in all of these years, it does feel to me like we have finally arrived.  Like we just walked through the biggest and most distant door, with not even a slim chance of turning back.  

And if I'm right, then we walked through that door quietly.  Calmly.  Without all that many people even noticing that we just rescued America from yet another discriminatory era.  The way we could've done it a full ten years ago had people accepted our good faith efforts for what they were rather than try to impose a Pandora's Box of disruption onto our hearts and minds.

 

 

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

—J.L.

Victory is what happens while you're busy making other plans | GLAAD

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