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The Journey Toward Equality

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Historic. Momentous. Groundbreaking. Whatever terminology we use, the 2012 election will go down in history as a major turning point for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

President Obama became the first sitting president to publicly embrace marriage equality, and his decision is rightly acknowledged as a factor in his reelection. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first openly LGBT person elected to the Senate, breaking a glass ceiling and doing so from the American heartland. And after more than 30 losses, our community was victorious in every state where marriage was on the ballot. In Maine, Maryland and Washington, the voters affirmatively granted marriage equality to same-sex couples, something that has never before been done anywhere else in the United States, or, for that matter, the world. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, voters defeated a proposed constitutional amendment barring same-sex couples from marriage, also for the first time ever.

In analyzing these victories, there is much to be proud of -- and much to learn from as the fight for equality moves forward. Though we may wish these victories were the end of the road, they are actually just one more step in the journey to full equality. Now more than ever, we must keep the momentum going.

These victories were only possible because of perseverance, smart strategy, hard work and significant resources.

Perseverance: Time and time again, our community has demonstrated that we are fighters and that giving up is never an option. It is that perseverance in the face of adversity that has brought us from being criminals because of whom we loved to living in a country where almost 40 percent of the population lives in a state with broad legal recognition for same-sex couples. From ending sodomy laws to fighting the AIDS pandemic to gaining legal recognition as parents to ending "don't ask, don't tell," our community has fought each and every battle with the conviction that we were in the right and the determination never to settle for anything less than the true equality we deserve. Evan Wolfson, the visionary leader of Freedom to Marry, long ago coined the term "losing forward," knowing that each time we pushed forward, even when we lost, we were moving another step closer to victory. By continuing to come out, share our stories and demand equality, even when it seemed almost out of reach, we often put ourselves and even our lives at risk, but we never, ever gave up. Now, as equality is closer than ever before, we must continue the fight until every LGBT person can live with dignity, safety and equality.

Smart strategy and hard work: No minority group should have to win equality by a vote of the majority. But these were the cards we were dealt, and the results this year are a testament to the careful strategy and enormous amount of work that have gone into getting us to this moment. As many pundits have pointed out, as more young people who grew up knowing LGBT people reach voting age, the better we do at the polls. But make no mistake: While changing demographics are a factor, they do not come close to accounting for the 18-point movement in support for marriage equality in California between Prop 22 in 2000 and Prop 8 in 2008, or the 10-point movement in Maine between 2009 and this year. The changes we have seen have been the product of an intensively deliberate effort. We learned from each battle what worked and what didn't, and we used that information to grow support for marriage equality. The losses in California in 2008 and in Maine in 2009 brought us significantly closer than ever before to winning at the ballot box, but we still fell short. Freedom to Marry then greatly expanded its staff and funding and undertook a mammoth project to analyze every available piece of data on LGBT acceptance and marriage equality in order to create the best possible messages and utilize them in each of the four states. This work played an essential role in these victories, as did the amazing state organizations on the ground, the national organizations that sent campaign staff to the states and the thousands of volunteers who knocked on doors, made phone calls and ensured that pro-equality Americans voted. And our many allies played a central role. As with the presidential election, when the social justice community comes together, we win.

Resources: Thanks to record-setting contributions by Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign, as well as generous individuals and phenomenal fundraising by the four state campaigns, our side far outraised our opponents. This was critical to our victory. By having more money and raising so much of it early in the campaigns, we were able to get out our message and counter our opponents' fear mongering and lies. For every ad they run, we often need to run two: one to get out our message and then another to counter their lies. As the fight continues, we need to continue outraising our opponents.

These victories not only will result in thousands more loving same-sex couples being able to marry but will propel our entire movement forward. Although courts should not consider public opinion when deciding civil rights cases, history shows that they do. The Supreme Court has always been reluctant to get too far ahead of public opinion. But thanks to the clean sweep on Nov. 6, if the Court restores marriage equality to California and overturns the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act next year, they will not be ahead of public opinion. They will simply be following it.

This piece was originally published in the Bay Area Reporter.