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Andy Thayer Headshot

LGBT Rights Are Not Inevitable

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A poll just out today says that a majority of Americans now view equal marriage rights in the U.S. as "inevitable."

This is a very dangerous notion, as it breeds the kind of complacency that was a direct contributor to the loss of Illinois's equal marriage rights bill on May 31st. We need to counter this idea if we are to roll back this defeat, and win over the next few months.

Let's be clear. LGBTs and our allies probably would have won if we had pulled out overwhelming crowds on our side to counter each of the "Illinois Family Institute" hate-the-gays rallies in April and May, and at the Capitol Building, as it would have sent a much stronger message to House Speaker Mike Madigan to not f--- with us.

I've covered Madigan's culpability in this fiasco elsewhere [2]. Here, I want to examine our own.

But for the notion that our progress was "inevitable," it wouldn't have been difficult to win equal marriage rights in Illinois. A February Crain's poll showed that supporters of Illinois's equal marriage rights bill out-number our opponents by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. At these various rallies, think if we had gotten just a tiny, tiny fraction of the 3/4 million who will show up at Chicago's Pride Parade on June 30th?

Instead, most of our leaders, elected and otherwise, and most of our journalists, said we're definitely going to get marriage rights. We're definitely going to get a vote on SB10, and we're going to win it.

If that was the case, then why should most people have bothered to get off their asses to make it happen? Imagine their bewilderment when they were told, literally at the last hour, that they were urgently needed down in Springfield to win something that they'd previously been told was "inevitable"?

History is replete with examples of powerful social movements being side-tracked and defeated for a generation or more by economic crisis, war and other factors.

Think of Reconstruction after the Civil War -- African-Americans had to face nearly another century of lynchings before the Civil Rights Movement was powerful enough to push back strongly against the violent racists. Think of the women's movement of the 1920s, side-tracked for a generation until the 1960s, with so many needlessly broken lives and life expectations as a result.

The last thing I want to be a decade or two from now is sitting in my rocking chair, fondly looking back at the year 2013 as the high-water mark of our movement, like a suffragette in the 1950s wondering where her movement has gone, and when, or if, it will ever revive.

Progress is not inevitable, and only a fool or mis-leader in our community will continue to peddle that notion.

With the U.S. Supreme Court set to decide on the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" and California's Proposition 8 coming by the end of this month, it's not just Illinoisans who can ill afford to be complacent.

Even if we win an across-the-board victory from the Court -- an unlikely result given the tenor of not just the conservative, but the "liberal" justices as well -- we will need to be in the streets to ensure the change that the Court grants on paper.

In 1954 the Court supposedly ended school segregation with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. But it wasn't until a nearly decade later, with a powerful Civil Rights Movement forcing the issue in the streets of America, that we began any actual progress towards desegregation.

We need to learn from our history. Rights progress is not inevitable.

As the great anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass said,

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.