Back in 1996, when the anti-gay “Defense of Marriage Act” passed both houses of Congress with veto-proof majorities, it was conventional wisdom that support for gay marriage, or gays serving in the military, would be political suicide for 30 years or more.
Conventional wisdom hadn’t changed twelve years later when Proposition 8 passed in California, revoking the right of gays to marry in that state, and both Democrats running for the White House studiously refused to embrace marriage equality.
Six years later, “gay marriage” isn’t just happening because of the courts, it is happening because it has the overwhelming support of the country. Support for marriage equality is no longer a “brave political position” for any politician except a Republican running in a Southern primary.And while the marriage equality battle isn’t over yet — it’s still not legal nationwide in America — organizing around marriage equality has been a net-plus for Democrats. For starters, the issue forced the Democratic party to take progressives seriously (at least the gay ones). But more generally, gay activists showed that progressives could still pack a punch. And that’s important on other battles beyond gay rights.
As some of you know, I was at one time a corporate spokesperson for an S&P500 company. So I have been to media training school several times. And one of the lessons they teach is:
9 x 1 = 0; but
3 x 3 = 3
What that means is that if you raise nine different topics with one reporter, the reporter won’t remember any of them. But if you raise three topics three times, the reporter will remember all three.
So with the marriage equality fight entering the final stretch, what should be the new progressive focus? And my question isn’t simply about what issues are important, but rather, what are the issues that can animate the movement as a political force?
The three top Progressive goals in 2008 were, arguably, to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, pass universal healthcare, and to move forward on gay rights. What should the Progressive goals be in 2016?
Back in 1996, DOMA passed with 342 Yeas to 67 Nays in the House, and 85 to 14 in the Senate. When DOMA passed, conventional wisdom was that the bigot lobby was so powerful that it was inconceivable that marriage equality would happen in our lifetimes.
Today a lot of the power of the most powerful lobbies in Washington — be they the Koch Brothers, AIPAC or the NRA — lies in the belief that their lobby is so strong that it would be perilous to cross them. Their power rests in the belief that they are immovable rocks. And I think great deal of the success of gay rights activists in the past decade(s) can be ascribed to the movement’s efficient and righteous fearlessness.
So what issue(s) should be next on the collective progressive agenda?