First Pride, Now Optimism? - Optimism Week

By Timothy Dillon

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It has been a long and arduous uphill battle for those seeking marriage equality in the United States. Being a member of the LGBT community has meant dealing with discrimination, ignorance, and even blind hatred. This hatred is not new, the derogatory use of the term faggot can be traced all the way back to the 16th century, when it was used to describe homosexuals as a burden, kindling to the fires used to execute other unsavory people (witches, harlots, etc). To be gay or lesbian meant to be bullied, persecuted, but above all, to be a second-class citizen.

Now, however, we are on a road to a brighter future. Only a couple decades ago, the idea of same-sex couples getting married was considered absurd. Now there are nine states that have legalized same-sex marriage. It used to be certain that Republicans were all on an anti-gay agenda. Yet, one of the party’s most prominent figures, ruthless as he may be, Dick Cheney is in support of same-sex marriage. Political power couple Bill and Hillary Clinton both have also come out in support of what they refer to as basic human rights. In the case of Bill, this is a bit too late since it was on his watch that DOMA was signed into law, but better late than never.

In fact, it was politics that kept these prominent politicians from coming out of the proverbial supportive closet. But with states beginning to fall like dominos in favor of same sex marriage, DOMA and Proposition 8 going to the Supreme Court, and even widespread support from Catholics who traditionally have been against same-sex marriage, how can we say that this isn’t the turn of the tide for LGBT rights?

While the SCOTUS has begun tackling the controversial laws and issues surrounding this, there has been progressive movement abroad as well. Since 2001, there have been 10 countries that have legalized same-sex marriage. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has been beating us at our own freedom game now for eight years! The United Kingdom voted in favor of same-sex marriage recently, and even the French…yes, the French, are getting geared up to vote on this issue, and the outlook is a good one.

So what is it about our nation that has taken us this long to come around? How is it that in a liberal and LGBT friendly state like California (that just legalized same-sex marriage a few years ago) could suffer such a devastating setback? Some 18,000 couples’ marriages were made illegitimate overnight.

In the case of Prop 8, people point to the campaign. Those who oppose same-sex marriage in California saw an opportunity through referendum to remove the law that brought equality to all couples in the state. Prop 8 showed us that if you want to take someone’s rights away, all you have to do is run the most effective campaign.

It is reasons like this one that not all people are totally optimistic. There is wisdom in the proverb, ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst.’

“Even after the civil rights movement, there was still a long process before things were good, and things still aren’t… good per se,” says William McCosker, a Bay Area native and supporter of same-sex marriage. Having lived to see California go from granting same-sex couples their basic rights to suddenly taking them away, McCosker is hesitant to accept a positive outlook. Whether or not a same-sex victory can be won through the law, or if it must be won in the minds of all people, remains unclear. So long as there is a possibility of referendum and there are people who oppose same-sex marriage, these rights could be in jeopardy.

“We still, as a country, face racial intolerance daily in some places. Just because the Supreme Court says it should be legal and accepted, does not mean that the country will instantly switch its stance. It’s important that we continue to work together to try to develop some sort of common ground. But do I want gay marriage? Yes. Do I want civil unions? No.” McCosker says.

Having been active in the community and seen the struggles first hand, it can be difficult to believe that DOMA and Prop 8 will meet their end in the Supreme Court. However, poll after poll has suggested that support for same-sex marriage and equal rights is on the rise. The first nine domino states, and the 10 (going on 12?) countries worldwide that are coming on board with treating people equally, regardless of sexual orientation, inspire hope in the very least.

The nation is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, and the initial feedback has been, dare we say, optimistic. While nerves might still be on edge, it is nice to be living in a time when people are starting to acknowledge that all love is the same, whether it is between a man and woman or a same-sex couple. If that doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, check out the house across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church. That should help you look on the bright (right) side.

Pride house opposite Westboro Baptist Church.