05/10/2012 12:33 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

In Memoriam

When my British uncle Richard Chapman met American Ben Duncan at Oxford in the 50s, being gay in England was punishable by over 20 years in prison. Five decades later they got married, one of the first couples to do so in England. They were in their seventies and by this time icons to the gay community.

Three days ago my uncle died, thus missing both the North Carolina disgrace and the belated but inspiring endorsement of equal rights by President Obama. When I think of my uncles' lives and how they were made less safe, less free, less satisfying by the forces of conservatism, what is most heartbreaking is this: resistance to social progress is generally futile. A point is reached when it seems not just morally wrong but ridiculous to deny women the vote or allow children to work in mines. All conservatism does is place a retarding (that's "ing" not "ed") finger on the dimmer as the rest of us try to shine more light into the dark corners where prejudice hides.

Progress is not denied, just delayed. In the delay, lives are ruined or diminished -- for nothing. Perhaps it is some comfort to realize that pain will not only be felt by the victims, but ultimately by their victimizers too. In five, ten, twenty years no sane person in America will be against gay marriage, and remembering that you were will feel as shameful as having recently been in favor of segregation.