Next week the Supreme Court will hear arguments opposing Prop. 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. While no one really knows how the court will rule, many hope their decision will spell the end of marriage inequality. Leading up to those arguments on March 26-27 there's been an undulating wave of unexpected revelations - such as prominent Republicans signing onto an amicus brief supporting marriage equality, or former President Bill Clinton opposing DOMA, the bill he signed into law, or conservative Republican Rob Portman, once on the short list to be Mitt Romney's running mate, saying he's changed his mind because his son is gay. Indeed, marriage equality put conservative Republicans at CPAC into a tailspin.
But, frankly, not all LGBT people care about marriage equality. Why is marriage so important, they ask, given all the other pressing issues LGBT people - especially poor and low-income LGBT people - have to deal with? They are perhaps unaware of the correlation between legal recognition of same sex relationships and those other issues - as the Williams Institute documented in 2009 (picked up by the Center for American Progress ) - showing higher rates of poverty among lesbian couples, especially those 65 years and older, than gays and heterosexuals.
Perhaps they will be moved by the extraordinary and powerful endorsement of marriage equality today from Democratic presidential candidate and former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton:
LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones - and they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage. That's why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law - embedded in a broader effort to advance equality and opportunity for LGBT Americans and all Americans.
Many political observers are focused on how Clinton's endorsement means she's running for president in 2016 - especially since this is her first major policy speech since she left office - and that marriage equality will now be a litmus test in the Democratic Party. A new Washington Post poll shows that 58 percent of Americans now support marriage equality. But her 5:55 minute video, posted on the Human Rights Campaign website as part of the Americans for Marriage Equality video campaign - is too important to just relegate to this expected position, thus making her statement something to shrug off or bookmark for the announcement of her candidacy. Indeed, she provides a template for those who want to change their minds, too, from thinking of gays in terms of sexuality to recognizing our real, profound humanity. Here's my attempt to deconstruct the video in some hopefully meaningful way.
To begin with, Clinton opens by framing marriage equality in the larger, international struggle for human rights and incredibly, associates gay rights with the place that initiated the Arab Spring, Tunisia:
A little over a year ago in Geneva, I told the nations of the world that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights and that the United States would be a leader in defending those rights. Now there were some counties that did not want to hear that. But I believe America is at it's best when we champion the freedom and dignity of every human being. That's who we are. It's in our DNA. And as Secretary of State, I had the privilege to represent that America.
I will never forget the young Tunisian who asked me after the revolution in his country, how America could teach his new democracy to protect the rights of its LGBT citizens. He saw America as an example for the world and as a beacon of hope.
Clinton then shifts to describing her own personal evolution on marriage equality. Heretofore, she favored civil unions (like Clinton) because of her strong religious beliefs. In speaking personally - but in the context of her duties as Secretary of State representing America to the world - she provides a point of entry for others to start "thinking anew" about the issue:
That's what was in my mind as I engaged in some pretty tough conversations with foreign leaders who did not accept that human rights apply to everyone - gay and straight. When I directed our diplomats around the world to combat repressive laws and reach out to the brave activists fighting on the frontlines and when I changed State Department policy to ensure that our LGBT families are treated more fairly.
Traveling the world these past four years re-affirmed and deepened my pride in our country and the ideals we stand for. It also inspired and challenged me to think anew about who we are and the values we represent to the world. Now, having left public office, I want to share some of what I've learned and what I've come to believe.
For America to continue leading in the world, there is work we must do here at home. That means in vesting in our people, our economy, our national security. It also means working everyday as citizens, as a community, as a country to live up to our highest ideals and continue our long march to a more perfect union.
Clinton then brings the message home - emphasizing the intersection of the personal and the political. But she does something startling in this section on the video - a quick laugh when she says that marriage is "a great joy, and yes, a great responsibility." It is a moment akin to when she teared up in New Hampshire. Here, Clinton appears to give a wink and a nod to all those other women who know what it is to have been deceived by their husbands or partners and stayed in the relationship. Then just as quickly, she moves into the joy of seeing her own daughter married and how no loving parent would want to deny their child that love:
LGBT Americans are our colleagues, our teachers, our soldiers, our friends, our loved ones - and they are full and equal citizens and deserve the rights of citizenship. That includes marriage. That's why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law -embedded in a broader effort to advance equality and opportunity for LGBT Americans and all Americans.
Like so many others, my personal views have been shaped over time by people I have known and loved, by my experience representing the nation on the world stage, my devotion to law and human rights - and the guiding principles of my faith. Marriage, after all, is a fundamental building block of our society - a great joy, and yes, a great responsibility. A few years ago, Bill and I celebrated as our own daughter married the love of her life and I wish every parent that same joy. To deny the opportunity to any of our daughters and sons, solely on the basis of who they are and who they love, is to deny them the chance to live up to their own God-given potential.
Clinton then speaks to those who oppose marriage equality:
Throughout our history, as our nation has become even more dedicated to the protection of liberty and justice for all, more open to the contributions of all our citizens, it has also become stronger, more competitive, more ready for the future. It benefits every American when we continue on that path.
I know many in our country still struggle to reconcile the teachings of their religion, the pull of their conscience, the personal experiences they have in their families and communities. And people of good will and good faith will continue to view this issue differently. So I hope, as we discuss and debate whether it's around the kitchen table or in the public square, we do so in a spirit of respect and understanding. Conversations with our friends, our families, our congregations, our co-workers are opportunities to share our own reflections and to invite others to share theirs. They give us a chance to find that common ground and a path forward.
For those of us who lived through the long years of the civil rights and women's rights movements, the speed with which more and more people have come to embrace the dignity and equality of LGBT Americans has been breathtaking and inspiring. We see it all around us everyday in major cultural statements and in quiet family moments. But the journey is far from over and therefore we must keep working to make our country freer and fairer and to continue to inspire the faith the world puts in our leadership. In doing so, we will keep moving closer and closer to that more perfect union promised to us all.
That Hillary Clinton endorsed marriage equality as her first major policy speech at a time when she can speak freely and the whole world is watching - just as she did for women’s rights in Beijing - suggests to me that she sees the struggle for LGBT equality as a revolutionary civil rights struggle of our age.