Marriage season is now upon us, and in year 2012 there are stirrings. Perhaps not in heteronormative quarters, where divorce remains a spectator sport, but unfecund passion is blooming where moral fences and rocky laws abound. Just recently our president, commander-in-chief of the bully pulpit, revealed that he has evolved, no longer uncomfortable with what was once termed, with slight derision, gay marriage, but is now known as “marriage equality.”
Perhaps President Obama was pushed to catch up to his verbose Veep or perhaps he saw this revelation as a strategy to open the promiscuous wallets on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, but he was historic, rhetorically. So much for Barack Hussein Obama as closet Muslim fundamentalist. True, he did not call on states to act on his pronouncement and certainly didn’t call on the Supreme Court to do so, but the occasion was remarkable partly because here as elsewhere Obama was leading from behind. But leading still.
When I teach classes on social movements, I attempt a dangerous feat. I ask students to imagine how not so very long ago – indeed, in my conscious remembrance, a half century back – American citizens could believe that segregation was right and proper. While many other citizens disagreed, the defenders of segregation in 1962 were not wild-eyed, in-bred, or illiterate. They were, some of them, responsible, highly educated, and often compassionate. Most were soon to decide that they were wrong, even if they did not phrase their racial conversion narrative in that way. But in the American South between 1964 and 1972, many former segregationists recognized that they were standing on the “wrong side” of history, or, as Leon Trotsky acidly phrased the matter, in the “dustbin” of history.
Perhaps we need be grateful that contemporary students have so much difficulty in figuring out how a plausible segregationist argument was possible. Today such a policy seems more than wrong; it seems inexplicable.
And perhaps we are at a branching point today – or soon – in that much the same will be said of our current marriage debate. Someday students may . . .
Read more: Marriage Equality and the Dustbin of History