The following is an excerpt of a speech I delivered at Moab, Utah Pride last weekend:
Isn’t it great time to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in America?
When I came out in 1988, only 35-percent of Americans thought gay relations should be legal. Today, polls show that more than half of Americans support marriage equality. Seventy percent of 18-30 year olds support marriage for same-sex couples.
Thankfully, we junked Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. The Religious Right said the sky was going to fall. And far as I can see, the sky is still here, it’s blue, and the weather is quite nice today.
In the last election, pushed by Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama evolved and announced his support for marriage equality. No one knew how this might affect his reelection prospects. But it was a risk that paid off. The president energized his base and was reelected by five million votes.
What the President’s reelection showed is that if you lead, people will follow. After Obama’s evolution, a parade of politicians – including some Republicans such as Ohio senator Rob Portman – also evolved and announced their support for marriage equality.
This year we have seen the Supreme Court junk DOMA and allow same-sex marriages to be recognized at the national level across America. For the first time, gay couples can file taxes jointly and protect their spouses and children. A second Supreme Court ruling overturned Proposition 8, allowing marriage to resume in California, the nation’s largest state. This automatically doubled the number of Americans eligible for same-sex marriages.
The march of progress seems to continue on a daily basis.
Just this week, the evil empire of Exxon-Mobil announced that they would finally be updating their employee benefits policy to include same-sex couples.
Just yesterday, a Superior Court in New Jersey ruled that it’s unconstitutional to deny federal benefits to gay couples and the state must allow them to marry. The total number of marriage-equality states is now 13.
Earlier this week, President George H.W. Bush and the former First Lady, Barbara Bush, officiated the wedding of a lesbian couple in Maine. When the conservative Bush family is celebrating gay weddings – they have moved from marginal to mainstream.
We are clearly winning the battle against conversion therapy. It has been debunked, discredited, and discarded by every respected medical and mental health organization in America. The practice is now in the hands of the outrageous and the outlandish, the fringe of the fringe, giving further proof that it is nothing more than junk science.
Yet, we still have a long, arduous road ahead of us. This fight is far from over. But, we are a generation that has the privilege to watch history unfold in front of our eyes. Each advance we make is paving the way for future generations.
When I was an in college I used to believe there was a finish line. If we just worked hard enough and fought, we’d overcome. But that was naïve and idealistic. There is no finish line. All we can do with our limited, precious time on earth is beat back the forces of intolerance – and try to make the world the best place we can. It is an eternal struggle, and thus we must be eternally vigilant.
Life can be beautiful — or it can be brutish. Which direction we go depends on the decisions we make and the actions we take. We are not passive bystanders helplessly watching the world pass us by. Together, we have the power to impact our politics, religion, and culture. We can change the world into the loving place we imagine it could be.
The LGBT community is headed squarely in the direction of equality. The only way we can lose our fight for fairness is if anti-gay activists turn back the clock. It is our mission to keep the clock ticking forward. The extreme right is wrong, and they cannot hate us, more than we love our families.
But let’s not forget. Equality is our destination, not predestination. There are no guarantees, only the great task in front of us. Our opponents are not lying down. They are not surrendering. They are not raising the white flag. We will have dig in, fight hard and settle for nothing less than full equality.
This is the time. This is the place. This is our moment to rise, each and every one of us, to play a pivotal role in shaping our history.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”