Bigotry's Last Stand

The recent wave of anti-gay bills feels like the last gasp of a dying movement.

Same Sex Marriage Cartoons 45
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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer yesterday, acceding to the reality that enshrining discrimination in her state’s law would probably do it no favors, vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which in practice would have made it perfectly acceptable for businesses to discriminate against gays (or anyone else) in the name of religion. In her veto statement, Brewer said that the bill “does not seek to address a specific and present concern related to Arizona businesses” and added that she was concerned about “unintended and negative consequences.”

The bill was just the latest piece of anti-gay legislation to run aground. Kansas’ state house, for instance, passed a similar measure recently, only to see it stymied in the state senate. Another copycat bill in Tennessee has also been shelved. In a slew of states, conservatives are trying to find a way to advance anti-gay laws under the guise of religious freedom, but they’re not meeting with much success.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

In many ways, this desperate attempt to formally legalize discrimination is the last gasp of a point of view headed towards extinction, and it’s really no surprise that it’s failing to gain traction. Case in point, according to new data from the Public Religion Research Institute, support for same-sex relationships is skyrocketing and is only going to grow more as the millennial generation (of which I am a member) ages. Here are just some of the details from the Institute’s report, which was released yesterday:

  • A majority of Americans (53 percent) now approve of same-sex marriage, a 21 percentage point jump since 2003.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 millennials support same-sex marriage, including 50 percent of millennial Republicans.
  • More than 7 in 10 Americans approve of laws protecting gays and lesbians from job discrimination and nearly 6 in 10 approve of gay and lesbian couples adopting children.

These numbers jibe with other recent polling showing that acceptance of same-sex relationships has gone from a position of the minority to a position of the majority in a relatively rapid timeframe. And as today's young adults become tomorrow's older generation, this change will only get more pronounced. As the Institute put it, “it is difficult to overstate the effect age has on support for same-sex marriage”; all the data show the millennial generation simply isn't interested in this facet of the culture war. Whereas just 10 years ago, opposition to same-sex marriage could be used to galvanize an electorate, opposition to equality could now be grounds for electoral punishment, and will become even more so in the future when we millennials are just a bunch of elderly voters (assuming we vote at the same rate as today's seniors).

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

In Arizona, though, it was not just politics but economics that came into play. The business community and a cadre of Republicans – including the party’s last two presidential nominees – were loudly calling for a veto, realizing the law’s implications for the state’s economy. (You’d think Arizona lawmakers would have learned their lesson from the boycotts that followed the passage of a stringent anti-immigrant law, but evidently another reminder that bigotry is bad for business was in order; at least this time the message was delivered before legislation turned into law.) The combination of business interest opposition and lawmaker terror  – three Arizona Republicans who voted for the bull were even calling for a veto – made for a perfect recipe to prevent the law's adoption.

In the long run, as more and more states legalize gay marriage and as more and more high-profile arenas, such as the NBA and the NFL, welcome gays and lesbians, the numbers detailed above will only get more encouraging, even if the gay rights movement suffers some momentary setbacks. Politicians will then act accordingly, whatever their individual beliefs. The simple fact is society stubbornly refuses to engage in the collapse that opponents of LGBT equality warn is imminent with every move towards more inclusion; eventually, those doomsayers will be tuned out by just about everyone and the country will be better off for it.