To the editor:
With a majority of Americans now expressing support for marriage equality for gay couples, all eyes are on the Supreme Court.
In the wake of the states of Maine, Washington, Maryland, and Delaware joining the ranks of states whose citizens have already spoken, via the ballot box, in support of marriage equality, it is only a matter of time until the Supreme Court weighs in on the issue.
It is absolutely amazing just how quickly public opinion has shifted on marriage equality. In October 2004, national polls showed more than 60 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage, while only 33 percent supported it. In October 2012, many of those same polls showed that, on average, 54 percent of Americans support marriage equality, while 43 percent remain opposed. Among voters under forty, nearly two thirds support full marriage equality for gay couples.
What prompted such a dramatic and rapid shift? The answer is obvious. As more and more people have come out to family and friends, the ripple effects have reached far and wide.
There is a bittersweet irony in these major shifts in attitude becoming so prevalent this year, 35 years after the assassination of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official in San Francisco.
Harvey was a firm believer that, if gay Americans were ever going to obtain our full place at the table, we had to come out of the closet. Harvey was spot on. The growing support for marriage equality is a direct result of people heeding his message all those years ago. Still, the gay community continues to face numerous challenges that cannot be lost sight of or ignored.
For example, there remain 29 states where laws are on the books that give employers the right to fire a gay employee, or an employee they think is gay, and the employee has no legal recourse. In several states, people who married someone of the opposite sex before accepting their homosexuality involved in divorce proceedings cannot only lose custody of their children, they can be denied visitation rights if their being gay is revealed to the court.
There remain more than a few states where qualified gay couples and individuals are legally barred from adopting children, even as hundreds of thousands of kids languish in the nation’s foster care system. And we also know GLBT teens in many places, including their own homes, still face bullying, bigotry, rejection, violence and, in some cases, death. As a result, suicide rates among GLBT teens remain significantly higher than their heterosexual peers.
The growing acceptance of marriage equality is great news, but that doesn’t mean other very real challenges don’t remain for the community Harvey Milk gave his life for thirty five years ago.
Gay Americans risk dishonoring Harvey’s memory, legacy, and sacrifice if we lose sight of those on-going challenges in our euphoria over the progress on marriage equality.
Vieques, Puerto Rico