As the LGBT community waits for the Supreme Court to hear, and ultimately decide, the four same-sex marriage cases currently on its docket, there is a rising sense of optimism about the expected outcome. Even Justice Thomas -- as evidenced by his recent "[this] may well be seen as a signal of the court's intended resolution" dissent in the 7-2 SCOTUS decision to allow gay marriage to precede in Alabama -- appears to be jumping on the bandwagon of inevitability.
While the recognition is welcome, there is no need to congratulate John Roberts and Co. after the Supreme Court issues its decision in late June because they are not leading the charge. Rather, they are facilitating a transition in society that is already happening but not yet complete. Progress isn't the same as the end zone -- and even gays know you don't call for a pass on the one-yard line at second down.
The opposition (Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, '80s sitcom has-been Kirk Cameron) has effectively conceded the marriage issue and is in the process of metamorphosing from a one-trick pony to a surreptitious warhorse. By perpetuating regional concerns, encouraging rogue elements and rebranding hate as a threat to religious liberty, these agents of intolerance are proving to be resilient. Exhibit A -- and a classic example of the "stupidity is often mistaken as bravery" adage -- is Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore, the man who encouraged judges to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to LGBT couples.
In putting his own beliefs above the very law he is sworn to uphold, Justice Moore willingly defied the Constitution's Supremacy Clause and has become the poster child for ineptitude. Regrettably, Judge Moore is no outlier with his recalcitrance. Texas state legislator Debbie Riddle has filed a bill that would throw transgender people in jail for using public restrooms. Bakers from Oregon to New Jersey are refusing to sell gay people wedding cakes by either claiming freedom of expression or denying service based on a religious exemption that doesn't exist for private businesses.
Mississippi passed a law that codified discrimination against gays based on the concept of religious liberty, and Arkansas, in a move right out of the Jim Crow playbook, just banned local governments from expanding anti-discrimination legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Haters gonna hate, but haters disguised as states rights proponents or strict constructionists are cunning bullies that need to be stopped.
While our country has history blemished with exclusion and intolerance, it has an even longer history of eventually getting it right. This is our moment -- the time where we need to double down, recalibrate our priorities and dedicate ourselves to "The Movement 2.0." Here's the red-orange-yellow-green-blueprint of how to finish the job started by our brothers and sisters at Stonewall nearly two generations ago.
We must not leave our southern brothers and sister behind. It's easy for cynical Northerners to dismiss the South as an anachronistic appendage to the United States based on its historically slow adoption of civil rights. However, the Southern LGBT population is at particular risk in the event of a marriage victory. Southern states have the highest proportion of LGBT couples raising children, but they offer the fewest protections for LGBT families. According to the LGBT Divide, a data portrait conducted by UCLA's The Williams Institute, 34 percent of all LGBT individuals, and 36 percent of all LGBT families, live in the South. And the number of Southern states that have passed legislation protecting LGBT employees from discrimination in the workplace? Zero.
We must agree that freedom of religion is not a blank check for hatred. Religion has long been the third rail of American politics, and perhaps it's time to stop proselytizing and start legislating. The religious exemptions inserted into the Affordable Care Act regarding birth control were not only too accommodating to the religious lobby, but also have opened up a Pandora's Box of discrimination. I'm certain that if the government were to explore the tax-exemption status of religious institutions, those that use the power of the pulpit to promote a political agenda would find a renewed sense of contrition. Our nation has long endured separation of church and state bipolar disorder, and the LGBT population is the latest casualty of institutions that preach sufferance and act insufferably. But when a young artist like Hozier creates the song and viral video for "Take Me To Church," as a metaphor for organized religion's hypocritical relationship with sexuality, there's hope that the pattern is changing. Can I hear an Amen?
We must continue the fight at the national level. While President Obama signed an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, there remains no federal law protecting LGBT people against worker discrimination -- and that needs to change. It is deplorable that in 2015 gay people can still get fired in 29 states for their sexual orientation and in 32 states for their gender identity. Yes, the FDA recently recommended a relaxation of its own antiquated blood donation ban for men who have sex with men (MSM), but the new policy will require that these men -- wait for it -- not have homosexual relations for a full year. Seriously. That's Travolta-at-the-Oscars crazy. Even as marriage equality approaches the finish line, raising a family depends too much on the state line. States that prohibit second parent adoption, like Michigan and Ohio, legally relegate one parent to the sidelines, and surrogacy as a means of growing one's family remains illegal even in states as progressive as New York. As long as civil rights continue to vary state by state, the fight must continue at the federal level.
We must watch more TV. We've certainly come a long way from Will and Grace. Nashville, with closeted cowboy country singer Will Lexington, is reaching into the depths of Dixieland and putting a (handsome) human face on the struggle to come to terms with one's sexuality. Lee Daniels' Empire is blowing the roof off of the all-still-recalcitrant homophobia in the black community, taking an issue that is too often relegated to the DL and placing it under a glaring spotlight. The Fosters features a biracial lesbian couple and even Pretty Little Liars has teenage lesbians. And with apologies to Mitch and Cam, as networks recognize that the power of these stories supersedes opposition from any fringe hate group, they will continue to commission vehicles with gay characters that realistically represent the community. Even commercials are getting in on the gay action. From last year's Honey Maid Graham Cracker ad showcasing doting gay dads to Hallmark's recent Valentine's campaign featuring a lesbian couple, big business is recognizing the formidable power of the pink purse. According to Witeck Communications, the adult LGBT buying capacity reached $830 billion dollars in 2013. That's a lot of graham crackers.
We must make more bathrooms Unisex. Today there is perhaps no group more maligned or misunderstood than transgender people. Coming out of the closet was hard enough, but it's difficult to imagine the feeling of being assigned the wrong gender. It is remarkable how science and medicine have advanced so that people can become their true selves without living a lie -- or worse, taking their lives. If only societal acceptance would evolve as briskly. Amazon's Transparent and Netflix's Orange is the New Black (and Laverne Cox in particular) has helped to elucidate the transgender journey and stimulate an important if not long overdue conversation about gender identification. We may not all fit in a box, but we certainly can all share a bathroom.
It is time for the American public to recognize that many of the purported obstacles to LGBT equality aren't obstacles at all. Gays are bad for business? The Williams Institute estimates that gay marriage alone has already generated an excess of $2 billion, and hundreds of corporations are signing Amicus Briefs to the Supreme Court arguing that marriage equality is good business. The Latino community is closed to homosexuals? According to the Social Science Research Solution's 2011 study, LGBT Acceptance and Support: The Hispanic Perspective, the storied concern over Hispanic homophobia is highly exaggerated. Republicans will never get on board with the freedom to marry? Support for marriage among Republicans has jumped significantly in each of the past three years. CBS News polls show that Republican support for gay marriage was hovering around 25% in 2012, a number that jumped to 33% in 2013 and currently sits at a robust 43%. The younger generation of the GOP is even more effusive in its support of gays: Pew Research reports 61 % of Republicans 30 or under support marriage equality. Our opponents may be crafty but they are running out of excuses.
Whether the old guard is wising up or dying off is no longer relevant. The gay rights movement is being won person by person, family by family, city by city, with Washington, D.C. a reluctant, self-congratulatory last stop. At the end of the day, sharing our stories and living out loud is the best way to help move the needle forward. By admiring the meteoric (and unapologetic) rise of Sam Smith, or simply by hosting play dates for our children's friends in our same-sex households, we are the catalysts creating the sea change. The Roberts Court is merely playing eleventh-hour catch up to public opinion so that it leaves the impression that it was on the right side of history.
Nobody is going to hand us freedom, but it is ours for the taking.