Keep the Win at Your Back

Wins in Iowa, Vermont, and Maine are giving gays some of the biggest boosts in 40 years. Now far-right blowhards like Tony Perkins and Rick Warren are struggling to clearly dispute marriage equality.



As we mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which were an expression of mass liberation erupting naturally and spontaneously among a crowd on the street, it might seem odd that I recently felt my own moment of profound liberation in the most unnatural -- and unspontaneous -- of settings: while appearing on a CNN talk show, sitting in a sterile studio all by myself.

It's a pretty restraining and nerve-racking situation, after all, where you're practically chained to your chair, staring into a camera, wired up, bright lights beaming down and blinding you (usually while you're wearing a confining necktie and jacket). You're hoping that everything you're saying is coming out as remotely comprehensible -- though you don't really have a clue at that moment -- while arguing with someone who is using all the tested right-wing talking points.

And the Time Warner Center in New York City is pretty lonely on a Saturday night; the newsroom is empty, the staff diminished. Perhaps it's the recession, but there isn't even a makeup artist present. So it's not exactly a place where you might think you'd feel a sense of solidarity with others or a connection to something larger. And yet that's exactly what I experienced that night.

I was on a panel discussing various political issues of the week when CNN's Don Lemon, anchoring from the Atlanta studios, turned to the issue of the Iowa supreme court's marriage-equality ruling, which was issued just a few days earlier. Why, he asked me, was Europe so far ahead in granting marriage rights? Five countries there -- Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway -- have legalized marriage equality nationally. I responded that marriage in the United States is something that's regulated by state governments and that, even though it is taking a while, "We are winning."

Those three simple words came out of my mouth so naturally, so spontaneously, and with a smile of true glee. When Lemon turned to Florida Republican Party chair Jim Greer, who had been positioning himself in this and a previous debate with me on CNN as more moderate than the most recent Republican administration, Greer began spouting the usual "marriage is between one man and one woman" babble and vowed to do what he could to keep it that way.

But for the first time, his rhetoric sounded not only like moralist pap but utterly retrograde. It was old and stale and all the more embarrassing. Iowa created a dramatic shift, with a unanimous court decision coming from the heartland, that seems to have swept away all the old arguments. The justices on that court are not liberal by far; most of them were appointed by Republicans. Their arguments were rooted in the Iowa constitution's history of protecting its citizens. If anything, theirs was a conservative argument founded on the state's and nation's principles of equality.