On election night November 6, 2012, and during the months leading up to that historic night, our country took giant steps toward greater equality and justice.
A ‘tipping point’ has been defined as “the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development.” In his best-selling book with the same name, Malcolm Gladwell included the ‘tipping point’ example of the sale of Hush Puppy shoes during the 1990s. The old shoe brand barely continued in existence at the beginning of that decade. Then, a small group of New York City ‘hipster’ kids began wearing the ‘retro’ shoe. The new popularity of the shoes was not immediate, but at some point, the popularity rapidly took off nationwide.
During the early days of its re-emergence, the new Hush Puppy craze might have been reversed if only a few of the trendsetting kids had abandoned them. But, as their popularity passed the ‘tipping point,’ there was no going back.
While the analogy of Hush Puppies and human rights might not be ideal, I believe that the phenomenon from the former is now occurring in the latter.
Recognition of the equality and rights of gay Americans has reached the ‘tipping point’ and there is no going back.
On the historic November 6th election night, voters in the State of Minnesota rejected a proposed amendment to their state’s constitution that would have defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington voted to provide the right to marry to everyone, whether gay or straight.
The defeat of the Minnesota amendment was the very first defeat for an anti-gay marriage amendment to a state constitution, after 31 other state constitutions had been amended to explicitly include homophobia within their texts. The approval of marriage equality in the three states marks its first three victories ever through popular vote.
Through November 5th, gay marriage equality had suffered 32 straight losses at the ballot box. As quoted by a recent Huffington Post article, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, stated this summer that “[t]he American people know in their heart what marriage is, and they have expressed that in the form of over 70 million votes cast in 32 consecutive state elections to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Mr. Brown’s cause of injustice is now on a 4 election losing streak.
Also cited in the Huffington Post article was a quote from Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. He prophesized that the November election was “a landmark election for marriage equality and we will forever look back at this year as a critical turning point in the movement for full citizenship for LGBT people.”
The three states that approved gay marriage at the ballot box will join the six states that have previously approved equality through the actions of state legislators or courts.
It has been more than 43 years since the ‘Stonewall riots’ at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which are often considered the beginning point for American gay rights activism. In 1848, a women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, and 72 years later the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognized women’s right to vote. In 1619, the first slaves of African ancestry set foot in what would later become our country. They arrived 345 years before the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. The “arc of history” is indeed long.
I don’t intend to compare the discrimination suffered by different Americans. As Martin Luther King, Jr. also said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The months leading up to the historic November elections began the ‘tipping point.’ This past summer, Vice President Joe Biden, and then President Obama himself, publicly made statements in support of gay marriage equality. It was the first time a sitting president or vice president had ever lent their public support. They importantly gave marriage equality the power and support of their offices.
If a high ranking elected Democrat had made a similar statement of support in any earlier year, the Republican Party would have quickly seized upon it for political gain. It is a great sign of changing American opinions that there was very little audible response from Republicans in Washington, D.C.
In the 2004 re-election of President George W. Bush, Republican strategists openly encouraged the placement of anti- marriage equality initiatives on ballots in swing states. The Republicans used gay discrimination as a “get out the vote” tool to motivate conservative pro-Bush voters to cast their ballots. In 2012, some commentators have suggested that the various gay marriage ballot measures may have actually been a positive ‘get out the vote’ tool for Obama and other Democrats. President Obama won each state in which they appeared.
A recent Gallup survey concluded that 3.4% of adult Americans openly identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Of course, that estimate does not include anyone ‘in the closet.’ According to exit polls from the November election, 76% of self-identified gay voters cast their ballots for President Obama, while only 22% voted for his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. Given a presidential election final popular vote margin that is seldom greater than a couple percentage points, the importance of the ‘gay vote’ for Democrats should not be underestimated.
In the aftermath of their most recent presidential defeat, many Republicans are being more reflective than they generally are by nature. They are vowing to make greater efforts to be appealing to women, Latinos, African-Americans, and, yes, for some, even gay Americans.
While the arc of history is indeed quite long, the arc for gay Americans has passed the ‘tipping point,’ entered the downslope and is speeding toward justice.