In D.C., The March to Gay Marriage Rights Continues Unabated

The rights MLK fought for seem self-evident looking back. In 40 years, gay marriage will seem the same.

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The Supreme Court today declined to review an appellate court decision that essentially upholds gay marriage in the District of Columbia. Some anti-gay activists in the District have been pushing for a ballot initiative on gay marriage—essentially arguing to put it to a popular vote. The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that an initiative banning gay marriage can’t be subjected to a popular vote because it would, itself, violate the District’s Human Rights Act.

So gay marriage, which became legal in the District of Columbia just last spring, continues unabated. Thus far, neither the nation’s capital nor the institution of marriage have fallen apart. Indeed, what has been most remarkable for me, as a D.C. resident, is how utterly uneventful the rise of gay marriage has been. The City Council passed it, a very small minority of people protested, there was a quick surge at the courthouse, which had to work through a backlog of gay marriage demand, and, well, that was about it. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]

Opponents of gay marriage are, at this point, in a race against the clock. Popular opinion is changing rapidly, and you don’t have to be Nostradamus to understand that gay marriage is going to be universally recognized in America in my lifetime. Americans born after 1980 support gay marriage rights by a fairly wide margin, and hard core opposition is increasingly limited to the old and to self-identified Republicans (even the independents are moving, rapidly, toward equal rights).

In California, where Prop 8 passed (barely) in 2008, public sentiment shifted the other way in less than two years. And even President Obama, finger firmly in the wind, said just before Christmas that his views on gay marriage are “evolving.” You bet they are; nothing evolves faster than a politician reading poll numbers. [Check out a roundup of Don't Ask, Don't Tell cartoons.]

A day after Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, it is interesting to contemplate the march of civil rights in this country. The courts and popular sentiment play off each other; what is rational in the eyes of the court depends in some measure on the views of the public. And while this march has never been fully linear, when viewed over the trajectory of decades, it has been inexorable. The rights Dr. King fought for seem, in hindsight, so self-evident that it’s hard today to imagine the opposition he faced. Forty years from now, we will say the same thing about gay marriage.

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