One of the most startling memes I’ve seen in the wake of the Indiana RFRA debate is the swift retreat by many conservatives from their previously stated support for same-sex marriage equality. Many analysts expect this kind of pushback when an issue becomes as heated as this one has. The pendulum swings back and forth, they say, and perhaps RFRA was the top of the equal rights swing and now the descent begins. Maybe, maybe not. But the pushback we’ve seen here is incredibly instructive, and ultimately worth the price for an honest public debate.
I couldn’t scroll my Twitter timeline at any point on Wednesday without someone saying they were now rethinking or abandoning their support for gay marriage after Indiana. They had reluctantly agreed that marriage would be ok, but to have their businesses hired to (not at all) participate in them? Fascism! Totalitarianism!
At first blush, this sounds like an unfortunate setback for the LGBT equal rights movement. Polls may soon show a softening of national support for marriage equality. Well, I say it’s about time. The emergent consensus was a fairy tale. It was too good to be true.
The aghast attitude by many on the right to the anti-RFRA protest is illuminating. What exactly did they think was going to happen? That people would settle for the right to marry, but meekly accept second class citizenship on every other issue?
I imagine there were similar reactions to black civil rights progress in the 1960s. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed in 1964 and 1965 respectively, banning racial discrimination in public accommodations and state voting procedures. Interracial marriage was still banned in many places when the Loving v Virginia case on that issue hit the Supreme Court two years later. The corollary refrain would have been, “They just got the right to shop where they want and vote. Now they want the right to marry us too?! Fascists!”
That’s how you know most conservative (not libertarian or moderate) support for marriage equality, such as it was, was never really about equality at all. If it were, they wouldn’t be so horrified when the fight inevitably didn’t end there.
No, it was about getting out of the way of a nuclear-powered locomotive of public and legal support that threatened to flatten anyone who stood in its way. Some conservatives smartly saw the light at the end of the tunnel and agreed to step off the tracks momentarily for self-preservation. But now that they see it wasn’t just one train, that there are more coming down the line, and still others parked in the station preparing to depart, they’ve faced reality and decided to build a wall of state laws across the tracks.
Well, get your mortar and your trowel, sister, because this train ain’t slowing down until every citizen of this great nation has equal access to the same rights and privileges as everyone else.