The Next Gay Rights Battles

Was the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal — 17 years of tireless activism in the making, following setback after setback — the easy part?

Now that the dust has settled on the triumph of the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, the mainstream press is taking stock of what gay rights activists can do next. While no one would argue that repeal was easy, several have pointed out how much that fight had in its favor: The overwhelming support (77 percent of the American public, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll) of the American people, military leaders and the majority of the general servicemember population, the president, and the Democratic party leaders in control of both chambers. Not to mention the winning image of patriotic men and women in wartime, risking their lives to serve a country that would punish their mere existence.

One historian, George Chauncey, writes in The Times that it was in fact the military that codified gays as a class that could be discriminated against, rather than a series of individuals with "deviant" behavior. But then he tells the Washington Post that the slow pace of change against DADT despite all those promising indicators is "not a sign of gay political power but of continuing gay political weakness," Chauncey said.

Then again, DADT falling can be a gateway to other necessary victories for activists; as The Washington Post puts it, "For the first time they can argue that if the Army trusts gay men and women with rifles, why shouldn't society trust them with wedding rings?"

Why not, indeed? Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes in The Times today that twenty years after Jesse Helms said he wouldn't vote for a Clinton judicial nominee "because she's a damn lesbian," his fellow North Carolina Republican Richard Burr voted for repeal. The Senate Majority Leader is giving speeches at gay weddings about gay rights — because gay marriage is legal in Washington, D.C.

The pace of change has been so rapid, faster than other civil rights movements by African Americans and women, says pollster Anna Greenberg. But the American public is now more tolerant than its own political leaders — because of pop culture, or because so many more hetero Americans now know gay people that are unremarkable parts of their lives — and the new Republican House and more Republican Senate isn't going to help that. Still, activists are going to start pushing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has stalled since the Clinton years in part because of reluctance to recognize trans rights.

Given that immediate hostility, the action is expected move to the states and to the courts. According to The Post, "Thirty states have amended their constitutions to bar same-sex marriage. In 2008, California voters struck down gay-marriage statutes already on the books, and the same happened the next year in Maine. In November, Iowa voters ousted three state Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of gay unions." Also, New Hampshire conservatives may repeal that state's gay marriage law. On the other hand, Maryland, New York and Rhode Island, may legalize it.

And DADT implementation may present its own challenges. It'll take months, and in the interim, the Log Cabin Republicans aren't dropping their case. "As long as the military is investigating and discharging people, our case is alive and kicking," their attorney said.

For Gay Rights Activists, Is Repeal Of Don't Ask, Don't Tell Military Ban The End Or Beginning? [WP]
After Fall of ‘Don't Ask,' Pushing for ‘I Do' [NYT]
Don't Ask Legal Challenge Will Go On, Attorney Says [RPE]
Last Ban Standing [NYT]