Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Keep the Win at Your Back: Wins in Iowa and Vermont Give Gay Rights Activists Some of the Biggest Boosts in Four Decades-And Suddenly It's Far-Right Blowhards like Tony Perkins and Rick Warren Who Are Struggling for Footing on the Issue of Marriage Equality

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Keep the Win at Your Back: Wins in Iowa and Vermont Give Gay Rights Activists Some of the Biggest Boosts in Four Decades-And Suddenly It's Far-Right Blowhards like Tony Perkins and Rick Warren Who Are Struggling for Footing on the Issue of Marriage Equality

Article excerpt

AS WE MARK THE 40TH anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which were an expression of mass liberation erupting naturally and spontaneously among a crowd on the street, it might seem odd that I recently felt my own moment of profound liberation in the most unnatural--and unspontaneous--of settings: while appearing on a CNN talk show, sitting in a sterile studio all by myself.

It's a pretty restraining and nerve-racking situation, after all, where you're practically chained to your chair, staring into a camera, wired up, bright lights beaming down and blinding you (usually while you're wearing a confining necktie and jacket). You're hoping that everything you're saying is coming out as remotely comprehensible--though you don't really have a clue at that moment--while arguing with someone who is using all the tested right-wing talking points.

And the Time Warner Center in New York City is pretty lonely on a Saturday night; the newsroom is empty, the staff diminished. Perhaps it's the recession, but there isn't even a makeup artist present. So it's not exactly a place where you might think you'd feel a sense of solidarity with others or a connection to something larger. And yet that's exactly what I experienced that night.

I was on a panel discussing various political issues of the week when CNN's Don Lemon, anchoring from the Atlanta studios, turned to the issue of the Iowa supreme court's marriage equality ruling, which was issued just a few days earlier. Why, he asked me, was Europe so far ahead in granting marriage rights? Five countries there--Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway--have legalized marriage equality nationally. I responded that marriage in the United States is something that's regulated by state governments and that, even though it is taking a while, "We are winning."

Those three simple words came out of my mouth so naturally, so spontaneously, and with a smile of true glee. When Lemon turned to Florida Republican Party chair Jim Greer, who had been positioning himself in this and a previous debate with me on CNN as more moderate than the most recent Republican administration, Greer began spouting the usual "marriage is between one man and one woman" babble and vowed to do what he could to keep it that way.

But for the first time, his rhetoric sounded not only like moralist pap but utterly retrograde. It was old and stale and all the more embarrassing. Iowa created a dramatic shift, with a unanimous court decision coming from the heartland, that seems to have swept away all the old arguments. The justices on that court are not liberal by far; most of them were appointed by Republicans. Their arguments were rooted in the Iowa constitution's history of protecting its citizens. If anything, theirs was a conservative argument founded on the state's and nation's principles of equality.

As Greer continued, something erupted inside me and I had to cut in. I was overcome with passion and defiance--something similar to what the Stonewall rioters probably felt as they rushed at the police 40 years ago. "And you will be on the losing side of that battle," I stated firmly and clearly.

My declaration completely jarred Greer, who looked at the camera, stunned for a moment. He had no response. There was something about my being on the offensive (rather than the defensive) and about my being positive (rather than lamenting that our rights were being stolen), that threw him off and rendered him speechless. It was something I'd experienced a month earlier, when I debated Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council on CNN's AC360 after oral arguments regarding Proposition 8 were presented to the California supreme court. …

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