2012 will go down in history as a momentous year in the struggle for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. On May 9, in a historic victory for the gay and lesbian rights movement, President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage rights. Not only is 2012 the first year that a U.S. president supported equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, but this could potentially be the first year that voters approve same-sex marriage by a state popular referendum and/or that the U.S. Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage.
Itís no coincidence that Obama picked this election year to finally support marriage equality. Due to the activism and greater visibility of LGBTQ people, support for LGBTQ rights has been surging. In 2004, a Pew poll found that 60% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, but in 2012 Pew released a new poll showing this figure slumped to only 43%. Crucially, a May 3-6, 2012 Gallup poll showed that independent swing voters favor same-sex marriage rights by a huge 17% margin.
The increase in support for same-sex marriage, especially among disillusioned Obama supporters and independent voters, means that it is now more politically expedient for Obama to support same-sex marriage than not to.
This year, both corporate parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, are exploiting this wedge issue from different angles for their own electoral gain and also to divert working-class anger away from unpopular economic policies, such as layoffs, home foreclosures, tax breaks for millionaires, and budget cuts in social programs.
Thatís why the Democratic-majority governments in Washington state and Maryland legalized same-sex marriage in February and March, respectively. Thatís also why Republican-affiliated groups collected enough signatures to place Referendum 74 on the ballot in Washington state this November, hoping voters will vote to reject the new marriage equality law. Republican-affiliated groups have also placed a measure on the ballot in Minnesota this November to enshrine the existing ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution. In May, citizens in North Carolina voted for a Republican-initiated ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage as well as civil unions. The Republican-majority New Hampshire legislature is also considering repealing its 2009 same-sex marriage law.
LGBTQ activists won a victory on May 31 when a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which declares marriage to be solely between a man and a woman, discriminates against married same-sex couples by denying them the same benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. LGBTQ activists won a similar victory on June 5 when a federal appeals court ruled Californiaís Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Prop 8 banned same-sex marriage in 2008, and now Prop 8 backers have 90 days to appeal this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Either the DOMA ruling and/or the Prop 8 ruling will very likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court chooses to review one of these appeals, the outcome will be a watershed moment in U.S. history.
So far, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and ten states have legalized civil unions. More historic battles over same-sex marriage are taking place right now. Although we will face the large war chests of right-wing religious groups and the fickle support of the Democratic Party, the majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage rights. We need to go all out to mobilize this majority through loud-and-proud visible demonstrations in the streets and convince more and more people to join our movement.
However, to win our rights, we should not support fair-weather Democratic ďfriendsĒ who lend us extremely limited support only when it helps their political careers. We need to rely on our own organized strength and build a determined grassroots movement through marches, massive educational outreach campaigns, and student walk-outs. We can also multiply our power by building coalitions with labor, civil rights, and Occupy groups to demand passage of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, living-wage jobs, and health care for all.