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Meyer: The time is now for gay rights activists

Tom Meyer

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Over the course of the last few months, a slew of new polls have shown that-for the first time in history-the majority of Americans support gay marriage. Not civil unions, not hospital visitation rights, but full and equal marriages.

This shift in public opinion, as demonstrated yet again by a Gallup poll this week, is momentous for the gay rights cause.

For years, marriage equality advocates have argued on moral and legal grounds in favor of allowing gay marriages nationwide. And while they have made headway in the court systems, gay marriage resolutions and laws have been passed in only a few states. Even staunchly Democratic states like California have failed to approve gay marriage.

Democrats have long supported gay rights, but many have been afraid of the political ramifications of pursuing gay marriage legislation, and with good reason. Several federal judges in Iowa, for example, were voted off the State Supreme Court after their decision to legalize gay marriage in the state.

Despite the historical political backlash, the nationwide trend toward public support should ease those political concerns and open the door for more states to legalize gay marriage. This newfound public support knocks down the last barrier for marriage equality and adds to a list of recent triumphs.

If these polls are not enough to persuade politicians that supporting gay marriage is a politically viable position, the lack of repercussions in the wake of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be. Conservative Democrats feared that voters would punish them for allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military. But since President Obama signed the repeal into law, the issue has largely been a non-issue as Tea Party supporters continue to focus their attention on the national debt.

Still, it is not all good news for the gay rights movement. Those same polls show that a significant chunk of the electorate still opposes gay marriage, a fact that should not be ignored. And the movement to support gay marriage has come exclusively from Democrats and Independents, meaning that one of the two major parties in American politics continues to stand in firm opposition.

So while gay marriage advocates should certainly be thrilled by these recent polls, which truly mark a historic moment for the cause, they should not let up. Gay marriage advocates now face a unique opportunity to advance their movement. With most of the conservative establishment’s attention focused on the deficit, and with a new majority and a sympathetic President, they can more aggressively pursue legislative routes to marriage equality.

The gay rights movement has made significant strides over the last decade. From shows like Modern Family to openly gay NBA executives like Rick Welts to the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, these victories have permeated every layer of American society. This new public support for gay marriage may be the final piece of the puzzle for a movement that has struggled for decades.

For those who have worked for this cause for years, the time for action is now. The last barrier has fallen and the wave of support is likely to continue in the months to come. Gay rights advocates should seize the moment and capitalize on their new majority.

Tom Meyer is a Medill freshman and DAILY staffer. He can be reached at thomasmeyer2010@u.northwestern.edu and followed at twitter.com/jstudentmeyer.

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