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Protesters chaining themselves to the White House gate today, objecting to what they called the “silent homophobia of those who purport to be our friends and do nothing,” capped a tumultuous few days in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — and the larger fight for equality.
There was the one step forward represented by the leak of a Pentagon study showing that 70 percent of active-duty and reserve troops surveyed thought lifting DADT wouldn’t have a negative impact on America’s armed forced. Followed by the two steps back of the Supreme Court’s order on Friday allowing the ban on openly gay soldiers to remain in effect while the Obama administration fights a federal appeals court ruling that the policy is unconstitutional, and John McCain — who has said in the past that he’d be open to repealing DADT — making it clear that, in fact, he wouldn’t. Not now. Not yet.
America finds itself at a real turning point in the struggle for gay rights. And, as during all turning points, it’s as if we are watching the struggle unfold on a split screen: progress on one side, setbacks on the other.
Joining the Pentagon study on one side of the screen is the fact that, in the elections earlier this month, more openly gay candidates were elected to office than in any other election in our history.
On the other side, right beside McCain and the Supreme Court order, is the fact that three judges on the Iowa Supreme Court, justices Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit, were voted out of office as payback for their 2009 decision recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry.
On one side, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is urging the lame-duck Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the new congress is seated in January.
On the other, General James Amos, the new commandant of the Marine Corps is arguing against repeal, using the old canard, disproved in the armed forces of many of our allies, that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would somehow hurt “combat effectiveness.” What does that mean anyway, that gay soldiers can’t shoot straight? That straight soldiers can’t shoot gay?
As we feel the exhilaration of watching our country make progress, and then feel the despair of watching it lurch back, it’s worth remembering that not a single civil-rights milestone in our country has been achieved without a struggle — and many setbacks.
Our union will never be perfect, but, as the framers wrote in the preamble to the Constitution, it is designed to constantly become more perfect. When they wrote those words, the rights and protections of women and African Americans were not yet recognized.
Then came the Emancipation Proclamation. The 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote. Brown v. the Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We look back at those achievements now and they seem so natural, so obvious. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the United States without them.
But for the men and women who fought for these achievements, the struggle must have looked a lot like the current split-screen world we’re watching.
Today, the forces of regression know that the gay civil rights movement is on the cusp of victory and that once victory is achieved, the next day we will find it hard to imagine that it was ever in question.
Those who oppose equal rights for the LGBT community are not just standing against the right of gays and lesbians to marry the person they love, or to openly serve in the military — they are standing against the inevitable.
It’s inevitable, and an issue that can’t be dismissed as belonging to the left or to the right. This was demonstrated by the legal dream team of David Boies and Ted Olson, who were on opposite sides in Bush v. Gore in 2000 but joined forces to overturn Prop 8 in California — proving that the issue isn’t a question of liberal vs. conservative, but a matter of civil rights.
Of course, just because it’s inevitable doesn’t mean that it won’t take a fight to make it happen. It will. It’s the same old fight to make sure that America stays on the path leading to a more perfect union.