Facebook turned red last week, as seemingly just about everyone changed their profile pic to the now-familiar red equal-sign, in support of same-sex marriage.
The impetus of course was the U.S. Supreme Court at long last taking up the constitutionality of two related items: California's Proposition 8, and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, longtime political fig leaf for Republicans appealing to their "family values" base and Democrats desperately seeking an easy way to avoid seeming "too liberal."
If I were king, anything called the "Defense of Marriage Act" would address dishonesty, substance abuse, domestic violence, infidelity, etc., rather than anything involving sexual orientation.
But in this country, for so long, homosexuality has been seen — incongruously, falsely, stupidly — as a worse threat to heterosexual marriage than any of those things.
The tide is obviously changing, quickly and inexorably in ways I've not seen in my lifetime with any other social issue.
At the turn of the 21st Century, only about a third of Americans were comfortable with the idea of gay marriage. By 2010, just a decade later, the supporting numbers began ramping up with blinding speed by statistical standards.
A majority of Americans now state their support for gay marriage.
That's a lot of changed minds and hearts.
For the most part I'll leave the whys and wherefores up to others. In my talk with comedian/pundit Bill Maher in this issue, he touches on his own theories.
I will say this much about it, however:
I firmly believe the struggles within the U.S. military over the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy have been instrumental. It's not at all coincidental that the increase in approval for gay marriage directly tracks the presence of huge numbers of American troops, many of them gay and lesbian, in harm's way in two overseas wars.
It's not the first time the U.S. military has taken the lead in social issues. After World War II, the armed forces were the first major American institution to be officially integrated.
African Americans returned home from the battlefields of Europe (in support roles due to the discriminating regulations at the time) only to face more discrimination after fighting for their country overseas.
The injustice was untenable on its face, so clearly defying the very nature of the struggle that the whole planet had been embroiled in.
Similarly, the bravery and service of gay and lesbian troops in our 21st Century military also paved the way for another kind of social change.
Simply put, it's unsustainable to deny people basic American rights when those same people are fighting to preserve your basic American rights.
But that said — and please don't misconstrue this as trivializing the struggle for gay rights — social change is easier to accomplish than the more profound inequity in American society: Economic disparity.
It's inevitable that gay marriage will eventually be fully as legal as straight marriage, just as it was inevitable that interracial marriage would no longer be illegal, or that minorities would have equal voting rights.
Long struggles all, but all also inevitably victorious.
Economic equality, not so much.
During the decades when gay marriage was becoming more and more acceptable among more and more people, the status of America's poor has been virtually unchanged.
A recent study by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston showed that the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans grew by $59 between 1966 and 2011. (Incomes adjusted for inflation.)
Fifty-nine bucks. Over 40 years.
During those same four decades, however, the average income for the top 10 percent of Americans rose by — wait for it — $116,071.
In my opinion that's just as unsustainable as racial prejudice, or anti-gay sentiments.
I welcome the breaking down of social barriers, and the expansion of true American liberty to all Americans. Again, in no way do I trivialize social issues and their advancement.
I look forward to the day when those barriers are all down, and we can all then join together to break down the tall, formidable economic walls which remain as daunting as they have ever been.
The struggle has just begun.
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