New York’s dramatic approval of marriage equality, as important to the advancement of equal rights as it was, should not lull progressives into the belief that the nation is on the verge of overcoming its prejudices against the LGBT community and ready to embrace equality for all.
As a piece in today’s New York Times notes, the four Republican state senators who joined with state Democrats to approve the measure, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo quickly signed into law, are facing a multi-million dollar effort to unseat them by a Religious Right outfit called the National Organization for Marriage.
And Scott Lemieux, an assistant professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose, writes in an article for The American Prospect that despite the plaudits from pundits on the marriage equality victory in N.Y., supporters of equality will need to keep all options open, including the courts. He says the “past warns against complacency.”
In the words of political scientists Philip Klinkner and Rogers Smith, the history of civil rights is “an unsteady march” in which incomplete victories and outright reversals are common. Both before the Civil War and after Reconstruction, voting and other civil rights for African Americans were curtailed substantially. After an initial trend of liberalization in certain states in the 1950s and 1960s, it became almost impossible to further expand access to abortion laws until the Supreme Court intervened in 1973. Public and elite opinion seemed to be turning against the death penalty in the late 1960s, but a decade later, a majority of states had the death penalty and executions were on the rise.
UCLA law school professor Adam Winkler, writing for The Huffington Post, says it’s long past time for President Obama to show some boldness on the matter of marriage equality.
Saying that July 4 is for “commemorating the boldness of our founders, whose Revolution was anything but a foreordained victory,” Winkler writes:
Today we stand at a crossroads. Will we allow gays and lesbians to finally become full partners in the American experiment, or will we continue to repress and discriminate against them?
That is the question Americans, especially President Obama, must ask. Like the founders, we should determine the answer by looking at polling results or pondering how it will affect the next election. We should ask instead what our answer means for our core principles. We should ask how we can live up to the spirit of ’76.