In the wake of a federal judge striking down Texas’ gay marriage ban and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoing an anti-gay bill, I feel compelled to confess something uncomfortable: I was totally wrong about gay marriage.
I never opposed gay marriage on principle. I have always believed -- and continue to believe -- that a legal contract available to one pair of people should also be available to another pair of people. Because of equality.
But after seeing how the words “gay marriage” fired up conservative voters in 2004, I found myself arguing with friends both gay and straight that it was the wrong issue at the wrong time. “A lot of Americans had barely even thought about gay people before Ellen came out,” I argued hyperbolically. “They’re emotionally attached to the word ‘marriage.’ If we can make sure civil unions offer exactly the same legal protections as marriage, why not just do that?”
I was so naively, embarrassingly wrong.
Admittedly, I had a lot of company in my wrongness. I respected John Kerry for rejecting Bill Clinton’s advice to come out in support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage during the 2004 campaign, but Kerry was toeing the civil union line too. Four years later, John McCain and Barack Obama both espoused pretty much the same anti-gay marriage, pro-civil union view, before Obama famously “evolved” on the issue -- which was, in itself, a fairly extraordinary evolution of the word “evolve.”
But just because all of our leaders from right to left were wrong isn’t an excuse for me to have been so wrong, to have undersold my own values because I underestimated the capacity of my country’s character to grow, of my countrymen and women to open their hearts and change their minds. I underestimated their empathy.
That was wrong.
I was also wrong to underestimate the strength of marriage equality proponents who pushed this issue from fringe idea to historic inevitability in just nine years. Nine years! Think about it: There are 9-year-olds today just coming into consciousness for whom the idea that marriage equality was once a minority position will seem as incredible an abstraction as it would have seemed in 2004 that, 10 years later, it would be a growing majority consensus.
Those 9-year-olds will grow up to wonder how people like me could have gotten it so darn wrong.
In part, I was wrong because I forgot history: I overlooked how “separate but equal” treatments under the law have generally been a lot more “separate” than they were “equal.” And I was wrong because I forgot how people told African Americans in the 1960s that maybe it just wasn’t the right time yet.
I was wrong because I failed to see, as Andrew Sullivan saw, that the legitimacy of marriage would make gay relationships understandable to straights in a whole new way. I was wrong because I failed to see -- or chose not to see -- that just as the word “marriage” carries significant cultural weight among those who would oppose marriage equality, it also carries weight with those who seek it. Even if it’s just a word, that’s what makes the word important, and it’s more important to people who support marriage equality because they have something to gain while opponents of marriage equality have nothing to lose.
Ironically, I was even wrong about the idea of gay marriage being a political loser. Now it’s turning into a headache issue for Republicans and a winning wedge for Democrats. Who knew?! Not me. I guess I underestimated the political upside of being right. I hope I never make that mistake again.
Most of all, I was wrong because I failed to see how much better our society would be if we corroborated our assertion that all people are created equal with the logical corollary that all love is created equal.
And so I am not proud that I was wrong, but I am glad that I was wrong. I am grateful that I was wrong. Grateful to the friends who pushed unwaveringly for marriage equality, who told me I was wrong. Grateful to have to apologize to them for being so stunningly, stupidly, shortsightedly wrong.
Seriously, my friends, I’m sorry -- but thank you. I should never have doubted you, but because you pressed on, you have shifted the tectonic plates of history and made this country evolve. That sea change in public opinion on gay marriage makes me proud of my country, not for the first time, but proud nonetheless.
[Correction, 2:16 p.m., March 3: A previous version of this post said the Texas Supreme Court struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. It was a federal judge’s ruling.]