Rapid progress on marriage equality: Grounds for (tempered) optimism
For those out there who don’t follow the excellent Glenn Greenwald, be sure to check out his column from earlier this week on the nation’s rapid progress on marriage equality. As Greenwald writes, it’s clearly grounds for a more general optimism regarding the prospects of societal progress in any number of areas:
“It really is a bit shocking how quickly gay marriage transformed from being a fringe, politically toxic position just a few years ago to a virtual piety that must be affirmed in decent company. Whenever I write or speak about any of the issues on which I focus, I always emphasize that a posture of defeatism – which is a form of learned impotence: a belief that meaningful change is impossible – is misguided. This demonstrates why that is true: even the most ossified biases and entrenched institutional injustices can be subverted – if the necessary passion and will are summoned and the right strategies found.”
But, as Greenwald also notes, one needs to be careful in assuming that progress for LGBT Americans automatically heralds progress for other oppressed groups:
“There are reasons why such radical change on this issue is easier than on many others. Social issues don’t threaten entrenched ruling interests: allowing same-sex couples to marry doesn’t undermine oligarchs, the National Security State, or the wildly unequal distribution of financial and political power. Indeed, many of those ruling interests, led by Wall Street and other assorted plutocrats (including Obama’s donor base), became the most devoted advocates for LGBT equality. If anything, one could say that the shift on this issue has been more institution-affirming than institution-subverting: the campaign to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” continually glorified and even fetishized military service, while gay marriage revitalizes a traditional institution – marriage – that heterosexuals have been in the process of killing with whimsical weddings, impetuous divorces, and serial new spouses (as Rush Limbaugh might put it: I’d like you to meet my fourth wife)….
Independently, as gay people came out of the closet, large numbers of Americans realized that anti-gay discrimination directly harms family members and other people they love and thus began to care about those harms, so a perceived self-interest was triggered that is lacking with other injustices (that’s what CNN calls the “Portman effect”: 57% of Americans now say they have a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian). And for a variety of reasons, gay Americans and their close supporters were able to assemble substantial financial and political clout (a redundancy) that remains unavailable to opponents of other types of injustice.”
In other words, toppling oppression that’s born of ignorance and narrow-minded social tradition is one thing; toppling oppression that’s born of greed and economic inequality is likely to be a lot tougher.