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In the News: Gays may have the fastest of all civil rights movements
Submitted by matty on Mon, 2012-05-21 14:30
from The Los Angeles Times.
SAN FRANCISCO — In 1958, the Gallup Poll asked Americans whether they approved or disapproved of marriage between blacks and whites. The response was overwhelming: 94% were opposed, a sentiment that held for decades. It took nearly 40 years until a majority of those surveyed said marriage between people of different skin colors was acceptable.
By contrast, attitudes toward gays and lesbians have changed so much in just the last 10 years that, as Gallup reported last week, "half or more now agree that being gay is morally acceptable, that gay relations ought to be legal and that gay or lesbian couples should have the right to legally marry." (In 1996, when Gallup first asked about legalizing same-sex marriage, 68% of Americans were opposed.)
Politically, President Obama felt it safe enough recently to abandon his studied ambiguity and endorse same-sex marriage amid a tough reelection campaign. Days later, a top Republican pollster, Jan van Lohuizen, issued a warning to his party, suggesting opponents were on the wrong side of the issue. Support has grown, he wrote in a strategy memo, "at an accelerated rate with no sign of slowing down."
If, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, the arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice, then it's arguably moving faster and bending quicker in the direction of gay rights than any civil rights movement before.
That is not to say that gays and lesbians enjoy a full measure of equality, or complete legal protection. Same-sex marriage is forbidden in the vast majority of states and, in many, gays and lesbians lack the protections against job and housing discrimination afforded women, Latinos and African Americans.
Just last week, Republicans in the Colorado House stymied a measure recognizing civil unions between gay couples, calling it an attempted end-run around the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. In Virginia, GOP lawmakers blocked a prosecutor from becoming the state's first openly gay judge.
Still, "it's pretty extraordinary what we've accomplished in less than 50 years," said Cleve Jones, who has spent decades as a gay rights activist, starting in the 1970s as a protege of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk.
"Homosexual behavior itself was a felony almost everywhere," Jones recalled. "There were laws on the books preventing us from congregating in bars and restaurants. There were special police units in every single city whose job was to entrap and arrest and imprison us. … There's been enormous progress, astonishing progress."