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View From Washington

View From Washington


When the petals of a flower begin to open, it often happens so slowly that the movement's impossible to detect in real time. But from my vantage point, marriage equality is blossoming before our very eyes.

Last week I argued that if White House officials think their only critics on same-sex marriage are LGBT activists in Washington, they are sadly out of touch with the reality that state advocates are actually more passionate about the issue. This week I would venture to guess that queers are the least of their worries.

First, the mainstream press is progressing from covering the issue simply as a political football bandied about during elections to being one of real consequence that speaks to the moral fiber of a politician.

It's a drumbeat that began the morning after Judge Vaughn Walker ruled California's antigay Proposition 8 unconstitutional and MSNBC's Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd pounded away at David Axelrod on the inconsistencies of President Obama's marriage stance. Axelrod dug in his heels and assured them that the president was still firmly planted in opposition to equality.

But in stark contrast to Obama's stagnation, last Sunday The New York Times presented a compelling graphic of the nation's march toward allowing same-sex couples to make lifelong commitments to one another. In the mid '90s a popular majority didn't support same-sex marriage in even a single state, whereas today a majority of Americans back marriage equality in either 17 or 22 states, depending on which polls you use.

The very next day, Richard Just, executive editor of The New Republic,published an opinion piece titled "Obama's Gay Marriage Position Is a Disgrace." In it, Just drew poignant comparisons between Obama's posturing on same-sex marriage and Woodrow Wilson's handling of women's suffrage in the early 1900s.

"Obama and those around him seem unaware that all of this is a problem; a look at some of the lessons from Wilson's experience might help to clarify why they ought to reconsider," Just wrote. "The first lesson is that history does not look kindly on this type of presidential conduct. Wilson is today remembered as a near-great president, but his indifference on questions of gender and race is more than a bit unflattering in retrospect. Second, like Wilson, Obama is running out of time to stay ahead of history."

But Just was just the beginning of the White House's marriage headache. By Wednesday, Ken Mehlman -- former Republican National Committee chair, Bush-Cheney campaign manager, and a virtual mastermind of the conservative movement -- flipped the partisan marriage equation on its head, making Obama's bumbling look downright backward.

While much of the LGBT movement understandably rehashed Mehlman's involvement in propagating antigay hatred during his GOP reign, what seems to have been missed was the tectonic shift taking place as conservative leaders band together to raise money for the cause of overturning same-sex marriage bans, potentially nationwide.

Mehlman told The Advocate that organizers have already collected around $750,000 for a September 22 fund-raiser to support the continuing Prop. 8 challenge, and it's not a stretch to think that they might ultimately bring in a ballpark figure of $1 million. If this were a national election, you better bet the mainstream press would have jumped all over that figure because political reporters know what that kind of money means in a campaign.

But more important than the haul itself is what it symbolizes. Leaders of the conservative movement are now putting themselves on the map as people who both support marriage equality and are willing to lavish money on its advancement. Like it or not, politicians always follow the money, and the money is beginning to whisper sweet nothings of equality in their ear -- even on the Republican side of the aisle.

Same-sex marriage is perhaps still seen as the most contentious LGBT issue in the country, and yet some of the sharpest conservative minds nationwide in both the legal and political realms are now prominent advocates in the fight.

Of course, Mehlman is just beginning to put his money where his mouth is on marriage, and I agree with people like Pam Spaulding who are pushing him to do the same with antigay politicians, where he could have considerable influence.

I fully understand that Mehlman's revelation this week picked the scab off a wound that runs deep throughout the LGBT community, and I'm not absolving anyone of anything. But nor do I think it's my place to stand in judgment.

Every morning newsprint slaps my coffee table with a mountain of injustice that often rims my eyes with sadness and occasionally rushes my heart with rage. And I would much rather train my sights on creating a future of fairness than stay mired in yesterday's despair.

So instead of crucifying Mehlman, let's hand him a pickax and a shovel and let him get to work on dismantling the hate he and his cronies helped heap upon a vulnerable and undeserving minority.

And who knows, maybe even President Obama and his advisers will get a whiff of the fact that spring is on its way.
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