Stepping back for a second after the brilliantly organized reelection of Barack Obama, what has transpired across the country for marriage equality is absolutely remarkable. After 32 consecutive state losses, the turning point has been reached, and we're accelerating in the other direction. This is nothing less than stunning, when just days ago many feared we would do no better than one or maybe two victories, and we already have three and in all probability a fourth, as well.
And I have to say that the reason this all happened nationwide was the leadership of President Obama. Yes, the community laid the groundwork over the past 20 years, but this stunning turnaround, with strong support from the Latino and African-American communities, must be laid at the feet of the president, who, during a difficult reelection campaign, did the difficult thing, the right thing. That is the definition of leadership. The Democratic Party flipped nearly overnight after that, and now America is following suit. It's now hard to believe that the Supreme Court will not end Prop 8 and rule the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional in the near future. There is a pattern to civil rights advances in this country: two steps forward, one step back, and then a leap to the next level, and repeat. It has happened for African Americans, for women and now for gay and trans Americans. No branch of government is immune to the forces at work in the others, or to those coursing through the body politic. So, hard as it may be to believe, I expect that the Supreme Court will do the right thing this coming session.
One lesson that was seared into my mind at the Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mass., was that leadership is "disappointing your friends at a pace they can absorb." The president certainly managed to lead on LGBT issues by that definition, though there were times when many of us felt that we couldn't bear the suspense of the high-wire act, like when we were so close to failure on the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" before it was finally passed during the lame-duck session of 2010, or when the push for an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was marginalized to make way for DADT repeal, or when the president was "evolving" ever-so-slowly on marriage equality. And while it may have been an errant comment from the vice president that sparked the president's final step, it is clear that he had this planned out far in advance.
We knew that he and Michelle supported us in their hearts. We knew that they had gay friends, including couples, for whom they had deep affection. We knew that he was observing the evolution of Democratic leaders like President Clinton and Governor Cuomo. We also knew that his religious beliefs had a tenacious hold on him. And yet, when it seemed so unlikely that change would come as the reelection campaign was getting into gear, that is when lightning struck and the leadership emerged. Maybe the president sincerely felt the need to shore up the base, which had been battered by the economic contraction. Maybe the withholding of donations by the gay community played a role, as well. Or maybe it was simply time for the adaptation to occur, in a burst of what biologists call "punctuated equilibrium." In any case, at a time that, in retrospect, seems the unlikeliest of times, the time of greatest political risk, the president simply did the right thing, because he was at peace with himself, and thus he was able to bring the nation along with him.
I know that there have been thousands of people across this nation who have contributed blood, sweat and, yes, many tears, to move us toward marriage equality, which has become, to most Americans, the symbol of LGBT dignity. Without them, this moment wouldn't have arrived. In Maryland, my home state, I think most of Lisa Polyak and Dan Furmansky, who propelled me forward in so many ways. Yet while all those battles were necessary, they weren't sufficient, as painful and frustrating as that is to admit. Not once in 32 previous campaigns were they sufficient. It took presidential leadership -- bravery, guts and plain human decency -- to add the final soupçon of sufficiency to allow us to run the table in a tidal wave of liberation this week.
Many of us have no interest in getting married. Some don't care to get married in the first place, preferring alternative modes of relationship or living alone. Some may choose not to remarry. We are aware that following marriage there is often divorce and all the attendant problems. But like it or not, marriage equality means something special and unique to the American people. It means basic human dignity, just as it did to the Lovings in Virginia 45 years ago. So whether or not we are married, ever have been married or ever will be married, we all have a stake in it. And that includes transgender as well as cisgender people. The dignity of those who choose to partake reflects back on us all. This week we are all able to stand a little taller and bear ourselves forward with greater dignity, thanks to those who have labored in the trenches, and thanks to the 44th president of the United States.