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.

BY Michelangelo Signorile

May 06 2009 12:00 AM ET

As Greer continued, something erupted inside me and I had to cut in. I was overcome with passion and defiance -- something similar to what the Stonewall rioters probably felt as they rushed at the police 40 years ago. "And you will be on the losing side of that battle," I stated firmly and clearly.

My declaration completely jarred Greer, who looked at the camera, stunned for a moment. He had no response. There was something about my being on the offensive (rather than the defensive) and about my being positive (rather than lamenting that our rights were being stolen), that threw him off and rendered him speechless. It was something I'd experienced a month earlier, when I debated Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council on CNN's AC360 after oral arguments regarding Proposition 8 were presented to the California supreme court. While what happened in California was "unfortunate," I said, in the larger picture "we are winning," and I noted that Iowa may soon come down with a positive ruling. Perkins was forced to deal with that probability rather than whatever false narrative he and his religious zealots had crafted.

Now Iowa actually has happened. And a few days after my debate with Greer, the Vermont legislature legalized marriage equality there, overriding the governor's veto (for the first time in almost 20 years). Quite suddenly, even religious conservatives were forced to grapple with those three simple words: "We are winning." Some, like Maggie Gallagher and the National Organization for Marriage, which produced the laughable "A Gathering Storm" ad featuring zombie-like people decrying the supposed damage marriage equality was doing to their lives, went into desperation mode. When the Human Rights Campaign exposed the people featured in the ad as actors, the entire campaign -- which NOM fast-tracked because of the Iowa and Vermont victories -- seemed all the more ridiculous.

Other evangelical leaders went in the opposite direction, pretty much conceding that it was all over. James Dobson of Focus on the Family announced that evangelicals had "lost" all the recent culture war battles. Texas preacher Joel Osteen, who together with his wife, Victoria, has been filling stadiums, professed confusion about the issue during an appearance on Larry King Live. He deflected questions about marriage equality while trying not to come down against it (although he eventually did) as his wife tried to keep him from making any embarrassing or nonsensical statements. And Rick Warren, now notorious among gay activists, actually attempted to rewrite history -- claiming to Larry King that he'd never come out for Prop. 8 and that he'd been misquoted in comparing homosexuality to pedophilia. That, of course, is a big lie.

All of this is further evidence that we are winning -- and that we need to act like we're winning and take the offensive. It's true that, for the most part, we're only starting to win the debate and have yet to win many of those all-important tangible rights, as a vast majority of the states still don't recognize marriage equality. We don't yet have federal protections against hate crimes or antidiscrimination laws safeguarding the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. And discrimination is still written into federal law, as the largest employer in the country -- the American military -- legally prohibits us from serving openly. Some people have suggested that marriage equality will usher in these other rights -- and that may be true. But it will be a very long time before marriage for gay men and lesbians arrives in all 50 states, so we've got to fight for all of these basic rights too. We have lots of battles on many fronts, and no doubt we'll have some big losses as well as some wins.

Still, 40 years ago the Stonewall rioters couldn't have imagined that on this day there'd be gay people getting married in the heartland or that a legislature would override a governor in standing up for marriage equality. Iowa and Vermont, perhaps more than Prop. 8 and the protests that followed, will likely be looked back on as a major turning point, yet another Stonewall moment.

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