With gratitude

Like essentially everyone not named Krauthammer, I loved the First Lady’s speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.  I thought that it was warm and personal and effective.  It’s probably no great surprise that I liked it, since I generally tend toward liberalism, but since you never know how convention speeches will go (I think we all know what I’m referring to with that, no?), it was a relief and a pleasure that she knocked it so very far out of the park.

However, it wasn’t merely her manner in making a case for her husband’s reelection.  It wasn’t her anecdotes about their early married life, or the life they share together in the White House.  It wasn’t even the subtle ways she skewered the opposition without feeling the need to do so explicitly.  I liked all those things, to be sure.  But I am personally grateful for something in particular.

I am grateful for how prominently she spoke in favor of my right to get married.

I know that marriage equality has made it into the Democratic platform (mirabile dictu).  I know she wasn’t the first person that evening to mention it.  (I think Rahm Emanuel may have [and am I wrong, or was he a surprisingly lackluster speaker?], and I’m pretty sure Deval Patrick did.  I loved Julian Castro’s speech, too, but I don’t remember for sure if it made it in there.)  As of my writing this, Bill Clinton hasn’t spoken yet, so who knows if he’ll mention it?  (Considering that DOMA bears his signature, as far as I’m concerned the best he can shoot for on that score is a mea culpa.)  She wasn’t unique in speaking about it.

But something about hearing the First Lady of the United States, in an incredibly important and prominent speech, stick up for my family’s right to the same legal protections and respect as everyone else’s… well, it meant a lot, it turns out.  Considering that the other side feels quite comfortable with the notion of mutilating the Constitution to keep people like me second-class, having high-profile advocates is something gay people should be extremely happy about.  And perhaps I am sentimental or naive or had simply stayed up far too late to watch the speech, but it sounded like she really meant what she said about people being able to marry whoever they love.

I know that we are a long, long way from nationwide marriage equality.  One kick-ass speech is little more than a rhetorical high point in what will no doubt be a hard and dreadfully protracted slog toward that goal.  But it shows how far we’ve come in a shockingly short period of time, all things considered.  And it gives me a new admiration for  the woman I hope is our First Lady for another four years.

[Yes, I know Michelle Obama isn’t actually in that picture.  Presumably everyone on earth knows by now it’s the President and their girls watching her speech.  But I unashamedly adore that picture, so I thought I’d use it.  Sue me.]

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. The high water mark of opposition to marriage equality has passed, don’t you think? Even the leaders of anti-SSM movements are bailing out and soon enough only those with tin ears towards history will find themselves on the wrong side of this issue.

    Where usually I am a great cynic, on this ground, I see good cause for optimism.

    • Burt / Russell,

      At what point would you consider opposition to be insignificant? Right now I believe it is polling at 43% however there is some reason to believe this is about 7% lower than actual voting shows. At the current rate the polling is going to look something like this (I also think it’s reasonable to believe this will accelerate in future years):

      Opposed to Gay Marriage
      2004 60%
      2008 51%
      2012 43%
      2016 34%
      2020 26%
      2024 17%
      2028 9%
      2032 0%

      I guess what I am getting at is that it has become very fashionable in the last year or so to basically say the fight is over, but 43 – 50% opposition is not trivial IMO. And I believe there are 42 states with gay marriage bans on the books. Is it too soon for self-congratulation?

      • Oh, dude. It is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too soon for self-congratulation.

        I have super-cunningly obscured the state where I reside, such that Sherlock Holmes and Deep Blue combined could only figure it out through random guessing, but I have been willing to let slip that same-sex marriage was briefly legal where I live, but never actually enacted because it was promptly overturned by referendum. (Thanks, residents of my Top-Secret state!) We have a shiny, new, proactive marriage equality referendum on the ballot again this year, and the polling is looking very encouraging. (It would, essentially, repeal the repeal, and allow the previously passed and signed law to go into effect.)

        Anyhow, it is indeed the zeitgeist to believe that marriage equality is all but a done deal. It ain’t done by a longshot. As you note, a huge number of states have some kind of anti-SSM law on the books, and a little more than 20 (I believe) actually have constitutional bans. (You can all imagine my pride that Missouri, my state of birth, was the first to pass one. It explains why I fear the Akin jaw-dropper won’t actually doom his candidacy like it would in a state with a more reliably sane electorate. [Sorry, MO. Truth hurts.]) It will be a long, long, loooooooong time before SSM is legal nationwide, and probably longer than anyone wants before DOMA is gone (assuming it survives SCOTUS challenge). Nobody is done any favors by getting complacent.

        • Dr. Saunders is 100% correct that the fight is not over and were the fight to stop right now for some reason, the wrong side would have won. Marriage rights are curtailed by statute or state constitutional amendment in a large majority of states. This will need to reverse. I’ve been too optimistic in the past and I tried to moderate my comment here to not intimate that the issue is a fait accompli. Although I think winning is inevitable, it isn’t done yet and the inevitability may be a long time in being realized.

          We SSM advocates cannot rest and must not stop making arguments until the issue is settled. Time and demographics are on our side: opposition to SSM resides more strongly with older voters. Powerful persuasive arguments exist: I know more than a few people who changed their mind about same sex marriage the day after The Marriage Cases were decided by California’s Supreme Court and they saw the photographs of the overjoyed couples celebrating on the front pages of their newspapers.

          SSM advocates should make those arguments confidently, assertively, and with smiles and optimism, and with the benefit of experience gained in past political struggles. The fight has not been won. But it can be, and I am confident it will be.

        • There is a college whose name begins with C in your super-secret state. I applied there and was waitlisted. It was probably my second choice though getting there would have been a pain.

      • To be fair, what I think people mean (and what I mean) when they say “the fight is over” is basically “the rout is on”. Sure, the other guys are still on the field, they still have their guns and numbers, but the tactical advantage has been secured by our guys and it’s pretty clear where this one is headed. I don’t have enough military history to draw a proper parallel, but I’m sure someone could.

        • I still think it’s too early even to think we’ve got a rout on our hands.

          Do I think the national opinion is changing? You bet. Do I think marriage equality is imminent in more states with a progressive bent? Sure. But in places where anti-gay sentiment is strong and entrenched, it’s probably going to be decades before SSM is recognized there, unless by judicial mandate.

          • I’d say we’re about one Supreme Court justice away from that scenario, if we’re not already there. I’m interested to see if Kennedy wants to make his last major opinion the one that cements his legacy on gay equality. (Although, technically, he’s already in pretty awesome shape on that score.)

        • Here you go: The fight for marriage equality is the American Civil War. The Marriage Cases is the Battle of Chancellorsville. The opposition to marriage equality in the California SCOTUS is Stonewall Jackson.

          Stonewall was accidentally shot by his own troops during Chancellorsville, and his death, while not a direct “turning point” in the War of Northern Aggression (hi Jaybird!), it was certainly a mortal wound to the body of the South.

          In the same vein, The Marriage Cases may not be the “turning point” in the battle for marriage equality, but they could be considered a mortal wound to the opposition.

          (I like my metaphors stretched tight, like a high E string).

          • We called it “The War Between Brothers”, Fish.

            I suspect that marriage equality has hit a tipping point. “Protecting Traditional Marriage” is one of those terms that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when it’s unpacked… defenders talk about The First Amendment and religion when you want to talk about the law, they talk about the law when you want to talk about public opinion, and they talk about public opinion when you want to talk about The First Amendment and religion.

            It is, of course, far too early to declare victory… but it’s not too early to declare victory inevitable.

      • I personally don’t think the fight will be won in our lifetime unless the Supreme Court unambiguously, by more than just a 5-4 majority, states that bans against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and that DOMA is unconstitutional.

        Absent that long shot, I think the states will soon coalesce into a large minority that deny all same-sex unions, a majority that recognizes “civil unions” but without all the guarantees, prerogatives, and privileges of marriage and, a small number of marriage equality states. In all this mess, there will arise countless cases of people, on a daily basis, being denied something as simple as seeing a loved one the right to visit another loved one even though all the papers are in order. And there will be widespread confusion, even if DOMA is repealed or invalidated, over whether one state has to recognize a marriage in another state.

        I hope to be proven wrong, but I’m a bit pessimistic even though the progress so far has indeed been heartening.

        • DOMA’s already toast in the next session. I could see that one being by a much wider margin than 5-4. It’s pretty patently unconstitutional.

          The rest… I just don’t see where people are dredging up all this pessimism. This isn’t abortion. Gay marriage is something we celebrate on network television, for Pete’s sake. I expect a fairly critical mass of states to have legal same-sex marriage on the books in the next ten years. The Mississippis, of course, will ultimately have to be forced by the Supreme Court. If we’re not already there, I suspect we will certainly be before I’m willing to contemplate letting my kids marry anyone of any gender.

          • My pessimism comes from years of being indoctrinated by true believers in a very conservative church, one of innumerable similar churches all over the region. They are deeply committed to the religious truth of their beliefs, and fight for them with genuine fervor. (They are, at least in my recollection, also incredibly sweet, generous and lovely people to know personally.) They fundamentally reject that same-sex relationships can be anything other than sinful, warped and damaging to society.

            Is this changing by generations? Sure. But there are a couple of generations who will be kicking around for a bit, and I went to church camp with their kids.

          • My pessimism has less to do with the cultural intractability that Russell mentions, although that intractability is real enough, and being straight, it’s not as “personal” and omnipresent as it might seem otherwise.

            My principal pessimism is based on the institutional incentives built into our constitutional system. There are too many veto points, and there are too many points of law (e.g., full faith of credit) that either haven’t been adequately elucidated to create a consensus on how marriages or civil unions will be accepted (or not) across state lines. (I’m not objecting to veto points per se, nor am I suggesting we quit our common-law system for a civil code, but on issues like marriage equality, they make things harder rather than easier.)

          • I say, this can be won in our lifetimes. Depending on how the Prop. 8 case is handled by SCOTUS, how votes in Maryland, Maine, and Washington go this November, it’s entirely plausible to predict that by July 1, 2013, 30% of Americans will live in states or other jurisdictions that have full marriage equality. (That would be CA, CT, DC, IA, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, RI, VT, and WA.)

            That’s a significant enough number of people to get the pendulum pushing back in the other direction in places like places with strong liberal or libertarian segments of the population that can be persuaded to come on board with the issue. Yes, some people in those states will grumble about it — but that dies out after a while. Massachusetts has had same-sex marriages for many years now, and from where I sit, there isn’t any audible effort in Massachusetts to change that state of affairs anymore. The good doctor is closer to the ground there than I am, so he or other folks frequently in Massachusetts might educate me about that.

            So yes, this requires getting the electorate of many of these states to reverse stances they’ve taken previously. I see no reason that can’t be done with a convincing enough political case, and picking states with reasonable chances of success in which to make the pitches. I think the Mountain West states seem likely enough to change their minds once there’s been a demonstration from the other states that SSM is a perfectly harmless and fair revision to the law. So too with states that have significant liberal political machinery in place, like Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

            Somewhere along the way, you’re past a tipping point and non-equality states will become the outliers. This can happen. I continue to believe it will.

          • My understanding is that in Mass, marriage equality is here for perpetuity, and I have no sense that it is different elsewhere in New England where it is already legal. In NH there was some noise after 2010 about the new GOP majority in the legislature to repeal SSM, but it polled terribly and I think it’s now pretty much dead.

            You list RI in your states with full equality. Did I miss something there?

            [Edited to add: I perceive Virginia to be a very, very difficult case. I would love to be wrong, but I wouldn’t put them anywhere near SSM legalization anytime soon.]

          • My understanding is that Rhode Island recognizes SSM licenses issued by other jurisdictions, although it does not issue its own.

            I wouldn’t have thought Virginia was winnable in Presidential elections by a Democrat. Obama proved me wrong about that in 2008 and it looks like he’s going to prove me wrong about that again this year. Lots of new blood in the Beltway area, it would seem.

          • For all intents and purposes, it is worth thinking about Virginia as a blue state at this point. Maybe a light blue state, like Wisconsin, that could flip or have a lot of Republicans in state-wide office if the conditions are right, but generally overall a blue state. Northern Virginia is too big and too liberal to really be drowned out by the red rural areas any more.

          • Here is the relevant factor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairfax_County,_Virginia

            Northern Virginia as a whole is more than Fairfax, of course, but Fairfax is rich, well-educated, liberal, and enormous. Throw in very, very liberal Arlington and Alexandria, along with moderate Loudoun and Prince William, and Virginia just isn’t really the state a lot of people still think it is.

            Has Nate Silver done his Virginia profile yet?

          • Actually, one change: Virginia will typically have a lot of Republicans in state-wide offices at all times for the foreseeable future. They have state elections not just in off years, but in ODD years. That absolutely crushes turnout among Democratic constituencies, like the state’s large and growing Hispanic population.

          • Burt,

            One of my fears is that too many states will settle for the middle ground of civil unions and get stuck there. Over the long haul, that might be a good thing, if it leads to a trend ofall marriages becoming civil unions and if those civil unions are universally portable. But in the meantime, and for a very long time, I predict a series of separate camps.

            Of course, if the Prop 8 case and the DOMA challenges go differently, things will (I hope) change sooner.

    • Eh. I thought it was a marvelous speech. If you want to see a marvelous political speech, then sure. If “marvelous political speech” is something you’re OK with missing, then I don’t see a reason to watch it just because.

      True confession time — we got too tired last night to stay up for Bill, who is stored on the DVR for later enjoyment. Seeing the raves this morning, I kinda wish I’d seen it live, but we were just too wiped. But I may pay the ultimate Thursday night sacrifice, and bump “Project Runway” to tomorrow!!

  2. I love Michelle! I loved her before the speech–her warmth, her sense of humor, her intelligence–and she’s my favorite First Lady (of my lifetime, of course). Jackie Kennedy was the first glamorous First Lady, but she lacked Michelle’s down-to-earth quality. Michelle is the kind of person you’d call to ask if she had time to watch “The Artist” with you. I couldn’t say that about any previous president’s wife.

    Clinton’s speech was worth staying up for. I think it was the best convention speech I’ve ever heard. (There I go again with my superlatives, LOL!)

  3. I’m pretty sure Castro mentioned it, FTR. I’m paraphrasing, but I’m pretty sure he had something in there about being able to “marry the people you love”. It wasn’t explicit, but it was clear and was just one of many great things he had to say. Again, I think he’s going to be a star. Even moreso if he ditches the creepy twin act.

  4. I’ve been pleasantly surprised (shocked actually) by of all the call outs various speakers gave to SSM and the repeal of DADT. Frankly, I didn’t think the democrats had it in them to address the social issues the GOP has pounded them on for years; they’ve been pretty wimpy about this stuff in the past. Old fart that I am (mid 50s), I never thought I’d see the day when gay marriage was legal anywhere. Of course, I never thought I’d live to see a black president either. Wrong on both counts.

    While I think we still have a long way to go and believe we’ll need a Supreme Court decision to get all states on board and provide married gay couples the same federal benefits heterosexual couples enjoy, I’m heartened by how far we’ve come over the past few years. I’m hoping that recognition does come in my lifetime.

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