It’s now been three full years since the first issue of GA Voice hit the streets, and our anniversary comes as gay and lesbian people here in Georgia and around the nation eagerly away the U.S. Supreme Court hearings on two cases related to same-sex marriage.
With oral arguments looming March 26-27 and decisions expected in June, National LGBT Pride Month, it’s impossible to ignore that we are living in a defining moment for LGBT equality.
The milestone marriage cases bring equal parts excitement and trepidation. A big win could allow gay couples to marry around the country, while a big loss could delay federal marriage rights for years.
For LGBT rights, what a difference three years makes
But however the court decides, and there are many possibilities, one thing is clear: In the battle over LGBT equality, we’re winning.
Victories may come soon, or they may be delayed, but we are on the right side of history and the right side of public opinion, which is quickly turning toward equality and fairness regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
While there have certainly been setbacks and there is much left to accomplish, the pace of change is hard to believe. Some of the highlights in just the three short years that GA Voice has been publishing:
• Repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay service members; • President Obama announced his support for marriage equality; won re-election, and included support for the issue in his second inaugural address; • Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first openly gay U.S. senator; • Six more states legalized same-sex marriage: Connecticut (2010), Maine (2012) Maryland (approved in 2012, effective 2013), New Hampshire (technically, Jan. 1, 2010, so three months before our launch), New York (2011) and Washington (2012), as well as the District of Columbia (2010); • Maine and Maryland became the first states where citizens voted proactively to allow gay couples to marry; • Minnesota became the very first state where voters defeated an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage; • Many celebrities have come out including CNN anchors Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper, Latin pop idol Ricky Martin, country singer Chely Wright, hip-hop star Frank Ocean, and more.
Progress for LGBT rights has not been as stark in Georgia, but here are just a few of the local victories since the beginning of 2010:
• Vandy Beth Glenn successfully sued the Georgia General Assembly after she was fired from her job as a legislative editor for being transgender; • The first Pride festivals were held in Augusta, Marietta and the “East Side” suburbs of Atlanta; • The number of openly gay members of the Georgia General Assembly grew from two to three with the election of Rep. Keisha Waites — although the total was briefly four after Rep. Rashad Taylor came out in office (he was later defeated when GOP redistricting forced him to run against another Democratic incumbent); • Alex Wan became the first openly gay man to serve on the Atlanta City Council; • Joan Garner became the first openly gay member of the Fulton County Commission; • Jane Morrison became one of the few openly gay judges in Georgia, winning a seat on Fulton County State Court; • Pine Lake City Council member Kathie deNobriega, who is openly lesbian, became mayor of the tiny Atlanta suburb; • Georgia got two LGBT mayor pro tems — Kecia Cunningham in Decatur and Melanie Hammet in Pine Lake; • The city of Atlanta settled lawsuits stemming from the unconstitutional 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar; • The Atlanta Police Department expanded from one to two LGBT liaisons; • The city of Savannah approved domestic partner benefits for city employees; • Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed backed marriage equality.
When I look back on my more than 15 years as a journalist covering LGBT Atlanta, the progress is even more striking. Back in 1997, when I started working as a reporter for the gay press, no states allowed any equivalent legal status for same-sex couples. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act were fresh losses. No openly gay candidate had ever won office in Georgia.
People were much more afraid to come out and lead openly LGBT lives, and the Supreme Court ruling in the Georgia case of Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld sodomy laws used to discriminate against gay people, still held.
Since then, we’ve seen Vermont become the first state to offer civil unions, Massachusetts become the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, and now a total of nine states plus the District of Columbia enact marriage equality. Ten years ago this summer, the Supreme Court reversed Bowers v. Hardwick, striking down consensual sodomy laws in the case of Lawrence v. Texas.
While we hope for a similarly historic ruling in the two marriage cases now pending before the Supreme Court, we can rest assured that our time is coming.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
It’s inspiring to see that arc growing shorter for LGBT people.