I know a lot of people are saddened and angered by the California Supreme Court's 6-1 decision yesterday to uphold Prop 8. In my mind, it's not that different from Plessy v. Ferguson's tragic "separate but equal" ruling that confronted my great-grandfather and millions of other African-Americans looking for simple equality in the late 1890s.
But despite this backward decision, I am optimistic--and it's not because I'm writing for the Optimist's Daily Brief. I believe the ruling will hasten national acceptance of gay marriage. Let me explain.
Progressive Californians, embarrassed by falling behind states like Iowa and Maine, will no doubt challenge yesterday's decision at the ballot box in 2010. And next year no one--from Ellen Degeneres to the least-known supporter of gay marriage--will take victory for granted. I see an enormous grassroots effort emerging in California, the type of transformative campaign rarely seen in American politics. Think Obama 2008 or RFK 1968. I'm talking about emotions, about people reaching out to family members and neighbors because they feel so strongly, about a ballot measure that will dominate conversation in coffee shops and barber shops and gubernatorial debates--I predict that both the Republican and Democratic candidates will come out in support of the measure. Not everyone will agree, and not everyone who agrees will show up to vote. But just as in the Obama campaign, enough people will be inspired to turn the 48% loss in '08 into a 55-60% win in 2010.
And that win will have a huge impact beyond California. By that point, Cali will likely be joining a dozen other states in affirming marriage equality. And the 2010 movement against Prop 8 will garner national and global headlines, shifting the conventional wisdom in states still on the fence. Just as Iowa prompted Maine, Connecticut, and Maine to legalize same-sex marriage this spring, California's decision will push its neighbors in the Pacific Northwest to find the courage to join the Change Generation in the 21st century, as well as the remaining Northeastern states and a few Midwestern progressives like Minnesota and Wisconsin. By 2014, the movement will be so strong even states like Georgia and Florida will be forced to relent. The logic just won't hold up any longer.
A good friend of mine who covers these issues for a leading LGBTQ magazine doubts that change can happen so quickly. It took 21 years between the first thawing of anti-interracial marriage laws and the Supreme Court's historic intervention in 1967 outlawing interracial marriage bans across the country. But just as the famous Moore's law says that computing power doubles every two years, the speed of social change is increasing at an astounding clip thanks to technology. Twenty years ago, there's no way Barack Obama could have gone from newly elected Senator to President in just four years. Bill Clinton spent 16 years in politics before winning the nomination, Gore 24. Everything happens faster now--companies go public sooner, stories break earlier, stars become A-list quicker. And the same goes for political movements.
We no longer need to wait for change.
Yesterday was a bleak day in California, one among many right now for a state with 11% unemployment. But next year we'll see Cali make history by becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage at the ballot box. And that emotional victory will clear the way for an unbelievably rapid season of change--first at more ballot boxes, then in the cloaked chambers of the nation's highest court.
Cross-posted to The Stimulist
p.s. If you liked this, check out Jon Soltz's dismantling of the faulty logic behind "Don't Ask Don't Tell."