2012 may in fact be the end of the world as we know it—at least for some social conservatives and seriously devout Catholics. Just last month the Pope very publicly warned that the spectre of legal gay marriage “threaten[s] human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”
The argument from social conservatives is that if gay people are allowed to marry the world will suffer a cataclysmic population decline, and the argument from religious folks is that gay marriage simply goes against what the almighty creator intended—”cats and dogs living together,” as Bill Murray said in “Ghostbusters.”
And yet in the US, it looks like momentum is building for a national acceptance of marriage equality. Just this week three major events happened that push us incrementally closer to equal marriage rights being the norm, rather than the exception.
On Tuesday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected California’s Prop 8, declaring a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. Yesterday, Washington State passed legislation to allow gay marriage—the seventh state to do so—and Illinois submitted a law for a vote that will do the same if passed.
The moves also come among high-profile endorsements of marriage equality — from Microsoft, who argued that it will make their business more competitive in attracting top talent to their headquarters in Seattle, to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who argued that it’s simply the right and fair thing to do.
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney both slammed the Ninth Circuit’s decision yesterday, vowing to fight to overturn the ruling. Romney said, “Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage.”
It is appropriate that Romney would cite the state’s will as paramount here—our country’s history is littered with the will of states on both the wrong and right side of history. From slavery to women’s suffrage to civil rights, there have always been states that gathered momentum toward a value set and other states that grudgingly followed once that momentum turned into consensus.
But that history is one usually marked by incremental progress toward more rights for more people. At every junction, when we as a country had to choose between more rights and fewer rights, we’ve always chosen more rights. It takes a while, and sometimes only happens bit by bit, but it’s usually the choice we make—civil rights, women’s rights, you name it.
This is why I feel pretty confident in predicting that, though marriage equality is now the exception, it will soon be the norm. And 50 years from now, it will probably be seen as an inalienable American right, just the other rights we’ve grown to hold as sacred. At some point the tide of momentum shifts toward a value set and establishes a right and wrong side of history. On marriage equality, 2012 is showing serious signs of being the fulcrum in that momentous shift. And Gingrich and Romney are showing serious signs of coming down on the wrong side of history.