Today, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon will once again make history by having the state recognize their more than half a century of commitment…this time for keeps! It is going to be an exciting day and I can’t wait to feel the energy of equality, and progress, and Love that engulfed the City four years ago when then new Mayor Gavin Newsom made one of the coolest moves I have ever seen in politics.
This isn’t a battle we wanted to wage, the quest for equality is an obligation, it is a necessity — not a choice. Yet how we arrived at today offers progressives our first major Overton Window victory in the new millennium.
When I first entered politics in 1996, the idea of equality for the LGBT community was almost universally considered unthinkable. I tried to take a long view of history approach and hoped it was something I might see in my lifetime, but a part of me figured that would be more a factor of advances in medicine than societal progress. That summer my small, hometown in Montana hosted our state’s first major Gay Pride Parade, a single act that moved the needle so far that it gave me an entirely new outlook and faith in my neighbors.
KKK fliers began targeting local business, I remember specifically the used books store that sold jazz LPs, because teh gays are literate and listen to music or something. And the community responded and rallied against the hate. I was a security volunteer and in the training noticed that almost every person learning how to deal with what we feared would be an inevitable confrontation were hetersexual, good people choosing to spend their time to let the LGBT community try to enjoy their day. In the end, there was no violence and our town took a giant step forward. Equality was no longer unthinkable, just radical.
In the next few years, the idea of domestic partnerships went from unthinkable to acceptable. And when Newsom made his bold move, it advanced to be considered sensible and even popular policy in California. Now, even Marriage Equality is considered acceptable in the state and this fall’s hate amendment and the fact the world won’t end today may prove it sensible this year and soon popular.
That process, from unthinkable to sensible in a decade holds powerful lessons for progressives in areas beyond civil rights. We’ve already seen it with Iraq, we have only the final stage of policy to achieve on that front. We are seeing progress in the area of health care, also.
This holds important lessons for Democrats. Despite DLC fears, the Democrats who put Marriage Equality on Schwarzenegger’s desk in 2005 weren’t thrown out of office and the votes for justice actually increased when the bill was again passed in 2007. Iraq is even a better example, cowering to the conservatives on Iraq was a disaster politically in 2002 and 2004, yet when Democrats stood up and fought in 2006 we captured both houses in a landslide year.
So enjoy today, and tomorrow, think about the what needs to be done, but is considered unthinkable.