A front-page article in today's New York Times examines the struggle within the gay community to figure out what, if anything, it should do next in the wake of the 2004 elections, when 11 states passed anti-gay same-sex marriage legislation and the country re-elected a president who wants an anti-gay constitutional amendment. (Groups Debate Slower Strategy on Gay Rights)
There is a fear that we've been overreaching and that the backlash has been or will be insurmountable; that by pushing for full marriage rights while a significant proportion of the country remains uncomfortable with the concept, we have forced the hand of the religious right and mobilized them into enacting laws that set us back. Some wonder if we shouldn't aim just a little lower for now.
I think we need to look back at the effective civil rights campaigns of the past. I'm trying to picture Susan B. Anthony or Martin Luther King, Jr., telling supporters that their goals are unrealistic.
Yes, we need to examine our tactics. Be honest about what worked and what didn't. But let's also not put all our eggs in one basket. There is a place for measured, pragmatic, step-by-step legal techniques and social outreach programs, and it's right along side in-your-face activism.
I categorically reject any suggestion that we shouldn't shoot for the moon. In the short term, we're gonna lose some battles, especially if Bush gets to replace three or more Supreme Court Justices. Given the success of the 11 recent state initiatives, there will likely be more. But these are just laws. Laws are not permanent. Laws are interpreted, amended, and repealed. Sometimes they are judged unconstitutional. And none of the laws that are being enacted now change the daily reality for any of us. They take away rights we don't even have. Practically speaking, nothing is different today than it was six months ago.
Increasingly, however, public opinion is on our side. And that is where the final victory will be won, in the court of public opinion. Trent Lott was hounded out of his senate leadership position when he made casual remarks at a private function that fondly recalled the promise of a pro-segregation presidency. He didn't break any laws. When we can move society to the point where Rick "man-on-dog" Santorum incurs the same outrage, whatever laws passed today will be meaningless and not long for the books.
Specifically, I think we need a more aggressive public relations war. Call every bluff. Publicize every discriminatory remark. Challenge every assertion. Push all the science we can get our hands on. Recently it was exposed that 99.8% of the indecency complaints received by the FCC this year were filed by one organization. There's no reason we can't go after Fox News, the 700 Club and other mouthpieces for the amoral minority and tell the government we're offended.
It's going to be a long, hard fight, and we shouldn't look for any significant victories with Bush in the White House and Republicans controlling both arms of Congress. But we can't be so shortsighted. Looking back over history, the long term trends globally are decidedly in our favor. For the next four years, at least, we'll have to run to stand still. But if we don't, we'll have that much farther to go later.