In Gay Marriage Race, Slow & Steady May Be the Best Course
We all know what we want: full equality. Today, if possible. The history of the gay rights movement, post-Stonewall, however, may show another path -- that the "all or nothing" contingent of our movement ends up empty handed with no crumb. Or cookies for that matter.
Instead, we seem to be learning that working slowly, state-by-state, municipality-by-municipality, the approach to marriage equality that has come to be called "incrementalism" is working. Maybe not as fast as we’d like, but it is still happening.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of the tortoise vs. hare approach was seen in President Barack Obama’s dramatic announcement that he now supports full marriage equality. The very word he used to express his opinions -- "evolve" -- shows that even the most progressive members of society may need to wrap themselves around the concept of same-sex marriage.
"President Obama for more than 500 days said he’s ’evolving’ on the issue of same-sex civil marriage equality," continued Badash. "Many Americans, whether or not they are conscious of it, are too. In time, marriage will mean exactly that: marriage, regardless of gender."
Evidence that other politicians - even those with strong ties to major religion - are evolving could be found in Washington State. In a spirited and impassioned speech, Gov. Chris Gregoire publicly supported legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington State during a January 4 press conference. A practicing Roman Catholic, she previously supported only efforts to expand the state’s current law on domestic partner rights for LGBT couples.
Gregoire did introduce the bill and helped push its passage through the State Legislature. Although the state’s LGBT population faces a campaign to rollback the law, it should be noted that, like Obama, Gregoire’s views had evolved on the matter.
"Some say domestic partnerships are the same as marriage," she said. "That’s a version of the discriminatory separate but equal argument of the past."
"Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families-making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment," Gregoire said.
"For all couples," she added, "a state marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children, if any, are protected by well-established civil law."
But many marriage-equality advocates see civil unions and domestic partnerships as a separate-but-equal equivocating reminiscent of the notorious racial segregation laws that once permeated the Deep South. And, they point out, like those Jim Crow laws, the separation was anything but equal.
"Marriage is one of the most critical and important liberties in civil society. And for most of society -- even our opponents agree - family is the center of our lives," David Badash, founder and editor of The New Civil Rights Movement, told EDGE. "An incremental approach to family, to marriage equality -- usually beginning with state-sanctioned domestic partnerships or civil unions for same-sex couples, then ’graduating’ to full marriage equality -- is an inadequate remedy, because it forces members of the LGBT community to continue to be perceived as less-than equal; under domestic partnerships or civil unions, our relationship status is exactly that: less-than equal."
"Incrementalism is a tool that enables the majority to continue to hold socio-economic and emotional power over minorities, while maintaining their own status and while maintaining their egos. All Americans know equality is more American than ego, and separate is never equal," he said.
Josh Friedes, marriage equality director for Equal Rights Washington told EDGE, "Throughout much of the nation there has long been a nasty divisive and in my opinion counter- productive debate about the so called ’incremental approach’ to securing marriage equality which takes you to marriage via one or more steps, usually civil unions or domestic partnerships."