On evolving.

Much has been made of President Obama’s oft-quoted comment that his views on marriage equality were “evolving.” Until this week, when apparently, they’d “evolved.”

I’m not entirely certain what the President meant by this turn of phrase (I know! I cannae read his mind! Imagine!), particularly given his public support for such equality as far back as 1996, but I suspect the evolution was for him more political than personal. This doesn’t mean that I think Mr. Obama’s motives were craven — merely careful. I didn’t love it when he came up with the “evolving” line, but I think I understood it. And I am proud beyond measure that he went ahead and finished the process the other day.

But here’s the thing, and it’s a thing that we supporters of equal rights often fail to note: We’ve all been evolving, for years.

Anyone over the age of 30 can remember a time when the mere idea of marriage equality was inconceivable — because most Americans still thought the gay and lesbian community was, at the very least, not quite right. I feel really, really safe in saying that the vast majority of those of us now staunchly supporting gay rights had to just plain get over ourselves at some point (and I most certainly include gay folks here. Internalized homophobia is no less -phobic than the external kind).

Our collective evolution is built on the foundations laid by the brave men of Stonewall; the work of civil rights pioneers like Harvey MilkFranklin E. KamneyPhyllis Lyon, and Del Martin; the ill-advised bigotry of Anita Bryant; the ravages of the AIDS years; the drip-drip-drip of pop culture and examples of well-known figures (Joe Biden was right about Will and Grace, and don’t underestimate Ellen); the horrifying murder of Matthew Shepard; the rash of teen suicides; and through it all, growing numbers of individuals telling the truth about who they are.

Yesterday, another brick was laid in that foundation:

A lesbian who sought a North Carolina marriage license with her partner and was rejected under a state law banning same-sex marriage was arrested with another person Thursday after they refused to leave a government office where several gay and lesbian couples were turned away.

…Nine gay and lesbian couples each presented completed forms and identification to a clerk at the local Register of Deeds office in Winston-Salem, but were refused because state law recognizes only heterosexual couples.

…Mary Jamis, 52, of Mocksville, and a heterosexual friend who joined the protest… were arrested after they blocked the entrance to the marriage license office and refused to leave more than 30 minutes after closing time.

A county administrator tried to talk the women into leaving and avoiding arrest, but the two insisted they would stay unless Jamis was issued a marriage license for her and her partner, Starr Johnson, 48.

A half dozen female officers then crowded around [them and] asked them to stand, handcuffed them and led them out a side door and into a van to be booked at the county sheriff’s department across the street.

As North Carolina and the other 29 states with anti-marriage equality amendments prove: We cannot simply say things should be right and then expect them to Become Right. There is no magic bullet to undoing bigotry. It’s a long, slow slog.

But on the same day that Mr. Obama evolved, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee announced the a bi-partisan decision to take up the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA): “Workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible,” said committee chair Sen. Tom Harkin, “and has no place in our nation.”

And in the days since, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Sen. Jack Reed, and Sen. Harry Reid also announced that they back marriage equality.

Consider, too, the reactions of the people watching the protest unfold in Winston-Salem yesterday:

“Can you at least acknowledge on here that you’re denying it and the date?” [one protester] asked, his ring-bearing left hand trembling. The clerk complied. Other clerks smiled sheepishly or shook the hands extended to them by couples they had turned away.

…[A straight woman taking out a license at the same time] said she did not object to same-sex couples being allowed to wed.

“Why not? I don’t think it’s really anybody’s business,” she said. “I don’t think it’s the government’s business to be telling people what to do with their private lives.”

I’ve written about my own path from homophobe to activist before. My earlier opinions are something that I wish daily I could erase from my past, but there they stay.

As in any enormous social shift, the learning and the changing and the growing all come in layers upon layers. Every evolution leads to the next, every statement makes others possible, every heart opened — opens others.

And some statements are a lot louder than others.

Like when the President of the United States says “Same sex couples should be able to get married.”

I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more civil disobedience, and a lot more arrests, in the days and weeks to come. I have a feeling that what the President did on Wednesday was open the floodgates, out of which will flow immeasurable pent-up energy, all aimed at genuinely history-altering events.

And speaking of which: That throw-away reference I made up there to Anita Bryant? That was a workplace discrimination fight. She wanted to keep gay teachers out of schools.

And today we have US Senators saying discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity (!) “is reprehensible and has no place in our nation.”

Yep, we’re all evolving.

Thank God, and thank each and every person who’s had a part.

6 Comments

  1. Darth Thulhu

     /  May 11, 2012

    Thanks for this. So beautiful and so true.

    This is one of the only areas where I see real progress swiftly transforming our world. Our economics are gridlocked in ridiculous debates about hyper-austerity, our financial industry reform is tied-down with the power of financial lobbies, our civil liberties are screwed up with the priorities of prison lobbies and officer unions, and our foreign policy is messed up with the power of contractors and still-not-discredited neocons.

    But the major bigot lobbies are cracking, and slowly breaking. From within and from without, each vile edifice of hate is being eroded, washed away. In our hearts, in our fellow citizens, on this one single front, we are making progress on becoming a more perfect Union. Hallelujah!

  2. stephen matlock

     /  May 11, 2012

    I wouldn’t throw away your past. Otherwise no one can understand how you got where you are, and where you came from. Maybe seeing that movement can help them make their own journey.

  3. Every heart opened opens others. Yes. So thank you for sharing about your past, it may make you more keen to open others.

  4. AND THE BAND PLAYS ON
    AIDS activist Peter McWilliams did not lose his life, over piece of paper from a government office recognizing his relationships. In fact, the whole meaningless fight over inducing states to issue marriage licenses, is more about gays asserting their right to be themselves, free of state interference, than it is a demand that the states modify their interference in marriages, so as to license and tax gay relationships just as they license and tax church-approved marriages. The mixed signals here are a deafening cacophony.

    But Peter McWilliams would not have been helped by Mr Obama’s current state of evolution.

    Peter McWilliams was jailed for using medical marijuana to treat the nausea his AIDS infection caused. The DEA silenced his dissenting voice, by withholding his anti-nausea medicine, until he drowned in his own vomit.

    Long before throwing us this meaningless gesture, of opining that states should allow gay marriage, Democrats stood by or even cheered, while George W Bush’s DEA killed Peter McWilliams, without so much as a trial.

    There’s a lot of money changing hands in the War On Drugs. Every state gets massive federal handouts to built new prisons. Locking people up for smoking cannabis, provides thousands of jobs for new prison guards. And takes the hundreds of thousands of young African-American men, jailed for smoking cannabis, out of the official unemployment statistics, making the sham economic stimulus appear to be producing employment.

    Uncle Barack just sold us all out. Hussein Obama and McMittington Romney are going to square off with each other from now until November, about whether states should tax gay people and give them pieces of paper that recognize them as married…or not tax gay people and not give them pieces of paper that recognize them as married.

    And neither of them is going to address the uncomfortable question of biochemical racism.

    If you happen to need medical cannabis to stay alive, neither Hussein Obama nor McMittington Romney will acknowledge, that the fact somebody needs the drug to stay alive, means the drug is improperly scheduled as a Schedule One drug (no medical use exists) and should be rescheduled by their own executive order, as a Schedule Two drug (hazardous drug with medical uses) or a Schedule Three drug (potentially habit-forming drug with medical uses). Instead, Mr Obama asserts that because the drug is currently illegal, he must not do his duty to reschedule the drug, thereby making it legal.

    Neither Hussein nor McMittington, want to face the fact that people are dying for lack of legal access to medical cannabis, for everything from AIDS wasting syndrome to cancer to Parkinson’s disease. Those of us who happen to need this drug are de-evolved subhuman inferior creatures whose ancestors should have been sent to Dachau for our death and cremation, because sick people who would benefit from cannabis, do not deserve to live and are not people. A lot of narcs and prison guards owe their livelihood to that opinion. Just like the Sonderkommando and Gestapo owed their reprieve from fighting armed Americans and Russians and Britons and Serbs on the battlefield, and had nice cushy jobs shoving unarmed Jewish civilians aboard the trains to the death camps…America’s prison-industrial complex could not survive, if our laws on marijuana reflected reality.

    Congratulations, wusses! Uncle Barack just made a meaningless gesture toward you, and you’re oh-so-happy at the symbolism, that gay relationships will increasingly fall under the purview of the Family Courts. And for six glorious months, you and Uncle Barack can have a sham debate with Willard McMittington Romney over marriage licensing powers that no President has within his jurisdiction, while people keep dying for lack of access to medical cannabis.

    There’s only one candidate left in this presidential election field, who will use his executive powers on January 20th, 2013, to begin saving lives from the prohibition of medical marijuana. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President. He will stand up to all those nice prison guards who stand to lose their jobs, and over their objections, legalize medical marijuana, on January 20th, when he relieves Hussein Obama of duty. And his Party has supported the right of gay people to be themselves, free from political interference, since 1974. This election, I’m voting Libertarian, and so should anyone else who knows right from wrong. I want to end the DEA’s war of genocide against the sick. And Gary will end it in January, once we elect him.

    • I’ve asked to stop using insulting nicknames for the President here. I’m asking you again.

  5. The enormous symbolism inherent in Obama’s gesture cannot be under-estimated. Around the world, when a man of his standing makes such a statement, it echoes, loud and clear.

    I so hope he takes himself off the leash during the election campaign. His cautiously conservative approach to so much has desperately disappointed those who thought he was a breath of fresh air blowing through the American body politic. The right in America has gone entirely feral – it’s time for Obama to take it up to them – hard.