I would like to tell my LGBT friends something we sometimes forget in emotional moments of backlash: We’ve been through setbacks before, and we’ll get through this one, too.
In 1977, at age 21, I was told that the gay rights movement was over because of the Anita Bryant crusade.
In 1981, we were told our days were numbered because of AIDS.
In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld state sodomy laws with Bowers v. Hardwick.
In 1992, Colorado passed anti-gay Amendment 2, barring local governments from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances.
And in 1996, we were told not to marry because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
These setbacks and challenges have not translated into permanent defeat. Instead, they are part of a long, circuitous and often difficult path toward a more just and equal society.
Let us recount the woman suffrage campaign, which is fascinatingly analogous to the present-day campaign for equality based on sexual orientation.
State after state, referendum after referendum, the question of allowing women to vote was defeated at the male-only or male-dominated polls. A failed and, as it turned out, corrupted 1916 Iowa referendum was part of the long string of defeats. Over time, however, public opinion changed in favor of universal voter equality. President Woodrow Wilson became a late convert to the cause, and the road to equal suffrage ended in victory when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920.
Despite decades of setbacks, progress ultimately emerged.
To quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
–David McCartney, Iowa City