Baby steps towards marriage equality in the United States

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that I’m a huge supporter of marriage rights for LGBT couples. It’s a question of basic equality and justice. That’s why I’m so happy about this particular piece of news:

In a major policy reversal, the Obama administration said Wednesday it will no longer defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Eric Holder said President Barack Obama has concluded that the administration cannot defend the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. He noted that the congressional debate during passage of the Defense of Marriage Act “contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships – precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the (Constitution’s) Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.”

The Justice Department had defended the act in court until now.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by Bill Clinton – and it, alongside Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), was one of the worst decisions of Clinton’s presidency. Agreeing to republican legislation banning gay marriage nationwide was based purely on the crass political calculation that more voters were homophobes than LGBT activists.

It’s clear that that’s changing. Back in the 1990s, no-one even bothered to poll opinions on same-sex unions. In 2010, for the first time, a CNN poll found that 52% of adult Americans “think gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid.” While I remain doubtful that a majority of Americans would vote for marriage equality, attitudes do seem to have changed substantially. Homophobia is becoming less and less ‘okay’. As more and more people dare to come out of the closet, people across the country are coming to the realisation that – surprise, surprise – gay people are just people, like anyone else. That’s brilliant news.

So while today’s decision isn’t anywhere near gay marriage, and should have come two years ago, it’s certainly a positive step, and one that reflects the astonishing progress that the gay rights cause has made in American public opinion over the past couple of decades. It’s why I’m happy to have a democrat in the White House, even if I’d like to see marriage equality right away, and I don’t think President Obama has gone far enough. Just imagine where we’d be if John McCain had won in November 2008. We’d still have DADT, we’d be nowhere close to DOMA repeal, and President McCain might well have announced his support for a federal gay marriage ban.

That’s why elections matter.

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