Hillary Clinton finally limped across the finish line officially supporting of gay marriage yesterday. Now that the topic is polling well, candidates from both parties are finally willing to endorse full human rights for same sex couples.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Monday that it will be “very difficult for any ultimate nominee, Republican or Democrat, to be against marriage equality” in the 2016 election.
Like most Democrats Bill and Hillary Clinton supported gay rights privately but showed less courage on the political front. Bill Clinton supported the tepid “Don’t ask don’t tell,” but then also signed the “Defense of Marriage Act” making same sex marriages invalid. Not long ago, President Obama dodged an opportunity to support marriage equality said he was “evolving” on the issue. Now it appears the President, too, has left the world of jellyfish and evolved a spine on the subject of same sex marriage.
Polls show that public opinion on gay marriage has shifted perhaps more rapidly than on any other major issue in recent times. In Gallup polling last November, 53 percent of adult Americans said same-sex marriages should be granted the same status as traditional marriages, while 46 percent felt they should not be valid.
In 1996, when Gallup first asked about gay marriages, 27 percent felt they should be valid.
The shift among the major political parties has been equally swift. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton and rival Barack Obama both backed civil unions for gay couples, but not same-sex marriage. In the lead-up to the 2012 election, Obama announced his support for gay marriage and Democrats backed the right of same-sex couples to wed in their party’s official platform.
I think we should bear two things in mind as gay marriage becomes a distinct likelihood in our time. First, we should be thankful for everyone who supports justice for all persons no matter how late they come to the party. But, second, we should never confuse such political calculations with a genuine courageous commitment to human rights. One reason that civil rights and women’s rights are still not fully realized is that they succeeded as political victories, not as ethical realizations.
When a right is technically legal but not universally recognized, the people in question can live in limbo. They never know when such rights will apply and where. It is very important to realize that very few politicians in this country are champions of human rights, which means the protections of today may become the bargainings chip of tomorrow.
The best hope of the oppressed is not to find political protectors, but to live in solidarity with other human rights movements. Soon equality for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender persons will be the law of the land, but grassroots groups like Equality Texas will be more important than ever making sure that no person’s rights are contingent on the waning and waxing courage of politicians.