Another Year (Almost) Over

The coming year is going to be ugly.

The economy is still in the toilet, environmental degradation is edging dangerously close to the point of no return, our infrastructure is crumbling, and Republicans in Congress remain committed to one thing and one thing only—defeating Barack Obama—even if they have to take the country down to do it.

Meanwhile, Larry, Moe and Curly are vying for the GOP Presidential nomination.

It isn’t easy finding things to be upbeat about in this environment, but there are some—and amazingly enough, the few bits of good news involve gay rights.

This year we’ve seen—finally—the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” More recently, the Obama Administration, represented by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the President himself, put the treatment of gay citizens by their governments squarely on the human rights agenda—serving notice to governments like Uganda’s that American aid would henceforth be dependent upon their willingness to treat their gay citizens humanely. New York became the 6th state to recognize same-sex marriage. And for the first time ever, Gallup found a majority of U.S. citizens supporting such marriage. Not just civil unions—real, honest-to-god marriage.

Not a bad year on the equality front.

Perhaps the most gratifying element of this cultural shift is the diminishing salience of far-right appeals to homophobia. (One of the very few good things about an economic downturn is that it does tend to focus people’s attention on bread and butter problems rather than the hot-button, divisive social issues so beloved by the culture warriors.) A recent New York Times poll found that even among likely Republican primary voters in Iowa—one of the most conservative (dare we say batshit crazy) electorates in the country—appeals based on the old reliable “God, Guns and Gays” have lost traction.

And when “all hat, no cattle” candidate Rick Perry—desperate to reverse his falling poll numbers—made a homophobic video ad in which he decried the “attack” on Christianity signified by allowing gays in the military but not organized prayer in public schools, the ad was met with satisfying ridicule—probably not the response he was trying for.  (Hate to tell you this Rick, but that “liberty” you keep talking about includes religious liberty even for people who aren’t Christians. There’s this provision in the First Amendment called the Establishment Clause that prohibits government from imposing your religious beliefs on other people’s children in the public schools. And there’s another clause in that Constitution you clearly have never read that requires government to treat its citizens equally. Can we say “oops”?)

I’m not sure why it is that at a time of real social discord, gay citizens are finally beginning to achieve a modicum of equality. It seems counter-intuitive, but the social changes that are bringing GLBT citizens out of legal purgatory (or worse) are too obvious to deny and appear too strong to resist.

Of course, if one of the clowns running for President on the GOP ticket actually manages to defeat Obama, all bets are off—not just for the gay community, but for all the rest of us.