Closing arguments are due this week in the federal trial over California's gay-marriage ban, 2008's Proposition 8 that took away the right for same-sex couples to legally marry. No matter how U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker rules, the case will undoubtedly be appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and from there, to the Supreme Court.
What has become clear is that achieving the right of same-sex people to marry in America has taken on a pace more that of a marathon, than of a sprint.
It is my hope that -- regardless of the probable years of court battles to come -- our country will continue to progress, to grow and to improve their understanding and acceptance of gay and lesbian people.
Some recent changes give me cause to be hopeful that, by the time the final court ruling comes down from the final judicial review, the vast majority of Americans may by then be accepting or supportive of the right of two men or two women to marry, perhaps even rendering that ruling -- no matter what it is -- moot.
Interestingly enough, these recent changes in how homosexuals are perceived and treated are occurring across three unique and disparate groups: the U.S. military, popular media & its viewer/readership, and the Internal Revenue Service. We've finally reached a point in time where certain perceptions and practices no longer have the relevancy that they once held.
Let's look to these recent developments, principal among them is the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the Unites States military, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which over the past 17 years allowed gays and lesbians to serve, as long as they remained quiet about their sexual orientation. In that time period, more than 13,000 able-bodied soldiers were discharged from America's military simply for being gay or lesbian.
Congress took up its repeal last month, and in a vote that fell along party lines -- with only five Republicans supporting -- put in motion lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the United States military. The repeal is supported by President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates, and we now await delivery of a December Pentagon study of the potential effects of a repeal on troop readiness and recruitment to Secretary Gates. It appears, however, that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" itself will be discharged sometime in 2011 as enough of our military and political leaders now see it for what it was -- an oxymoronic and farcical practice.
Another change of note is that we've finally reached a point in time where celebrities coming out of the closet thankfully no longer have the shock-value that they once had. Recent self-outings from actor Sean Hayes, pop-idol Ricky Martin and country singer Chely Wright have made only a brief blip on the media radar.
When Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997, she made the cover of Time magazine with the headline, "Yep, I'm Gay," causing a national discussion about homosexuality as well as condemnation from the likes of Jerry Falwell and bomb threats made against the studio filming her TV show.
And while tabloids and those who overindulge in sensationalized gossip will always be obsessively interested in prognostications as to whether or not Tom Cruise might be gay, or Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan might be a lesbian, the difference today in the public's reaction to celebrities coming out of the closet -- as cited in numerous research studies -- is that as more people have gotten to personally know a gay or lesbian, it's changed their views about gays and lesbians.
Gay role models will always be important for young people -- all people for that matter. But more and more of those gay and lesbian role models are being found amongst friends and family, making a powerful difference in how homosexuals are perceived, treated and accepted.
Perhaps the most interesting change comes from the Internal Revenue Service. For the first time in its history, the IRS has acknowledged homosexual couples as a unit for tax purposes, ruling that the 58,000 California same-sex couples registered with the state as domestic partners must be treated the same as straight couples.
This ruling -- which may also apply to same-sex couples in Washington and Nevada -- reverses a 2006 IRS ruling citing that domestic partnerships fell "outside the context of a husband and wife." What changed? In this case, the change to the Obama Administration from the Bush Administration and IRS recognition that California, like Washington and Nevada, are community property states that recognize domestic partnerships and require them, like married couples, to treat all income as joint property.
The benefit is both perceived equality -- acknowledgment of homosexual relationships -- and financial equality, as in most cases same-sex couples, just like their straight couple counterparts, will realize a reduced tax liability.
However, some legal experts point out that the IRS ruling is in conflict with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that denies federal recognition of any marriage other than that between a male and female.
In considering DOMA, it's interesting how history does, in ways, repeat itself. There are parallels between those Americans who advocate the prohibition of same-sex marriage today and those Americans who advocated the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s.
Nearly 90 years ago, small-town Protestants who feared the onslaught of change occurring throughout the nation in turn used fear to drive their political agenda and intimidate politicians and civic leaders to craft a movement powerful enough to change the U.S. Constitution. That bears a striking similarity to those who used fear and hate to drive the passage of the bigoted DOMA -- as they expected Hawaii to legalize same-sex marriage and the U.S. Constitution would then require full-faith and recognition of those marriages by other states -- and California's equally hurtful Prop 8 that overturned the right for same-sex couples to legally marry in 2008.
If marriage needs defending in this country, it doesn't need defending from gays and lesbians who merely wish to legally enter into a committed relationship with all its cultural and legal validations and benefits. Perhaps for those who truly feel that the institution of marriage needs defending, before casting stones they would do better to look first to their own glass house that includes: the recent marriage infidelities of Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Jesse James, Charlie Sheen & Brooke Mueller, Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer, Ted Haggard, David Letterman, Rush Limbaugh's fourth marriage to a woman 26 years his junior whom he met during the divorce of his third wife, and the hit prime-time network reality series "The Bachelor" that relegates marriage to an elimination-style game culminating with the bachelor proposing to his final selection from a TV-season-long pool of "eligible" women. Not that I have anything against the aforementioned, but it rather smacks of hypocrisy that people should make it their business - their cause -- to deny me rights under the guise that my merely having those rights will threaten the institution of marriage, when the institution of marriage already endures transgressions, failings, bad behavior and bad taste from heterosexuals.
Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin points out in his book, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, that Americans have the highest levels of marriage and divorce and go on to remarry and re-divorce more than any Western country. He focuses on an interesting cultural contradiction between how Americans reconcile their idealized perceptions of marriage and individualism, as well as, how politics has used gay marriage and covenant marriage to influence voters. Cherlin ultimately suggests that America could benefit from being less fixated on promoting marriage - particularly between a man & a woman -- and more focus on promoting stable relationships and family environments for children, regardless of who comprises those relationships and families.
The road to marriage equality for same-sex couples has the momentum of the marathon, not of the sprint. We have that momentum because more and more Americans question old perceptions and practices and are concluding that they are either no longer relevant or were simply plain wrong.
That gives me hope that despite how the courts ultimately rule on same-sex marriage, that hate legislation that is DOMA and Prop 8 will one day soon be judged irrelevant and wrong.
Atticus Finch is one of literature's most admirable father figures. In To Kill A Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel about racial prejudice in the American South, he is willing to stand up for what he believes:
"Before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."