As the Gang of Six and other Senators work to avert an unprecedented national default yesterday, something else unprecedented happened. There was a hearing on the Respect Marriage Act, a bill that would overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that passed in 1996.
Much has changed in the 15 years since this discriminatory bill became the law of the land. Same-sex marriage becoming legal in New York is just the latest and most exciting example of that change. In a piece in The Atlantic, writer and author E. J. Graff contrasts Wednesday’s hearings with those that took place in 1996. “It’s hard, now, to remember that foreign country, which was almost unrecognizably hostile to lesbians and gay men,” she writes. President Clinton signed DOMA into law. President Obama now publicly supports its repeal. Clinton now embraces marriage equality. Obama continues to evolve on the issue.
Tomorrow, the moderate think tank Third Way will release a report that highlights a “seismic shift” in the views of Americans toward relationship equality for gay men and lesbians. This chart puts it all into perspective.
The statistics are stunning. The 53 percent of Americans who support same-sex marriage today is a 26 percent increase since 1996. The 68 percent who say gay couples raising children are a family is up 39 percent since then. And here’s the knock-out number for me: In 1996, just 5 percent of the country lived in a state or locality that provided legal recognition of gay relationships. Today, thanks to the victory in New York, 46 percent do. Or put another way, as the Third Way report will note, “The number of people living in jurisdictions that provide legal recognition to gay couples has leapt more than ten-fold, from 13 million to 143 million.”
The Third Way report, written by Lanae Erickson and Sarah Trumble, puts a spotlight on one of the things I revere most about the character of the American people. It may take a while and require more patience than anyone pushing for civil rights should have, but on issues of fairness and equality the people of the United States always come around.