There is no denying that the decision of the California Supreme Court upholding Proposition 8 is a setback for gay families and anyone who supports marriage equality. But the reversal is temporary.
One day in the not too distant future — years maybe but not decades — Prop. 8 will be seen as the swan song of the old order. California's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage garnered 52 percent of the vote in November, but it was the last gasp of an atavistic and deeply negative conception of homosexuality whose grip on the American psyche will soon be banished for good (and good riddance).
Gay marriage is coming to America.
The speed at which gay marriage went from a wedge issue that Republicans used during the 2004 election to drive religiously conservative voters to the polls, to its wide acceptance today, is nothing short of a political tsunami. Five states have now legalized same-sex marriage either by statute or court order: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine. The last three did so in the few months since California's Prop. 8 case was argued. With the momentum building throughout the Northeast, measures legalizing gay marriage are considered viable in New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire.
The polls are reflecting this rapid shift in the cultural landscape. In April, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll, 42 percent of Americans said same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry. That was up 9 percent from the prior month. Only 22 percent said they supported gay marriage in 2004.
As gay marriage becomes a regular feature of community life in the Northeast and beyond, the business community will increasingly play a role in accelerating its acceptance by hold-out states.
In the 1990s, technology companies were at the forefront of equalizing benefits for their gay employees. It is now a common feature of corporate America that same-sex partners are treated as any other married couple, with 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies providing domestic partner benefits.
Going forward, political battles over same-sex marriage will engage some of America's most influential corporations that see state-imposed limits on gay families as a barrier to attracting and retaining highly skilled employees. It's already happening.
Google, the mega Web search engine firm, joined a brief along with other business interests before the California Supreme Court urging it to set aside Prop. 8. "Google believes that all of its employees deserve fundamental civil rights, and that when employees are harmed, businesses suffer," the company told the court.
And in 2007 five of Indiana's largest employers called for the defeat of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that was before the Indiana legislature. A letter from the drug company Eli Lilly and Co. to the House speaker expressed concern that the bill "sends an unwelcoming signal to current and future employees by making Indiana appear intolerant." The measure failed then and every year since.
Here is what I predict the future holds for states resistant to recognition for same-sex marriage: When their economic development people try to lure Information Age companies to relocate there, the answer will come back: How can we move to a state that doesn't recognize the legal status of some of our employees' marriages or their legal relationship to their children?
What a sweet day dawning.
In the aftermath of the Stonewall riots of 1969, when persecution of homosexuals was official government policy, this quote by William the Silent, leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish, could have been the motto of the nascent gay rights movement: "One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere." Forty years later the impossible dream of full legal equality is actually within reach.
Californians who were distressed by the passage of Prop. 8 and the court's subsequent ruling should take comfort in the pace of Americans' shifting attitude. Opponents of same-sex marriage have to realize by now that for their cause, the end is nigh.