Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
In a landmark decision handed down Monday, the Richmond-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Virginia’s state ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.
For those used to the challenges of reading through the language of many recent Supreme Court decisions, the Fourth Circuit offered a refreshing clarity and unexpected boldness in stating what an ever-increasing majority of Americans have come to know well: “We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable… However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws.”
The Fourth Circuit judges understand that times and attitudes are changing. For young Americans soon to begin high school or college, even the phrase “gay marriage” seems clunky. They call it what it is: marriage, plain and simple. For this generation, gay and lesbian couples aren’t in some “other” category. They are friends and family, roommates and coworkers. They are people.
They are also the people who are bringing new energy to the institution of marriage.
It is sadly true that it has been the Republican-elected officials in Virginia who have fought hard against marriage equality and, indeed, many other rights for LGBT Virginians such as freedom from discrimination in the workplace. And, it is very unlikely that we will see many Republican-elected officials praise the Fourth Circuit’s decision.
It is also important to applaud the many Democrats who have promoted equal rights even when it was politically challenging to do so. Virtually every advancement of LGBT rights in Virginia has been initiated by Democrats and it was Democrats who fought hard, although unsuccessfully, against the Marshall-Newman amendment that for years banned marriage equality — and even civil unions — in Virginia.
As an Arlingtonian, I am proud that our Democratic County Board leaders have been at the forefront of efforts to extend workplace benefits and other civil rights to gay and lesbian Arlingtonians over the past 25 years.
While the institutional Republican Party may be reactionary and obstructionist on LGBT issues, the youngest adult members of the Grand Old Party are ready to acknowledge what our Founding Fathers saw as self evident: that all men — and women — are created equal.
It’s among younger voters that we see amazing progress on marriage equality, even in today’s hyper-polarized political environment. A Pew survey released in March showed that 61 percent of Republicans aged 18-29 support gay marriages. At the same time, over three-quarters of Democrats in the same age group support gay marriages.
What’s more, these young Republicans support gay marriage without feeling that it jeopardizes their credentials as “real” Republicans.
Fortunately, the vitriolic debate about whether gays and lesbians “deserve” marriage will soon belong to the past. Young leaders in both political parties are ready to move forward to economic and foreign policy issues. They know that we need the fully-engaged talents of all Americans to ensure our economic competitiveness, as well as security and a strong moral example in times of international conflict. We should all be encouraged.
Young people face unprecedented challenges for the future. We risk becoming the first generation in American history to make less money in real terms than our parents. We face a potentially ruinous college debt bubble and a job market that remains hesitant to hire new college graduates. These are real issues that jeopardize young professionals’ futures. It’s not surprising that they’re tired of wasting time policing bedrooms and church altars.
Monday’s decision makes me proud to be a Virginian. It’s proof that the Old Dominion is moving toward shedding a discriminatory past to embrace tolerance, inclusivity and compassion for all of its residents. The inevitable forward motion of equality happens regardless of whether some dig their heels in the dirt against it. But it takes courageous steps to accelerate the move toward equality. So it’s a happy day to see Virginians stand up and move our Commonwealth and the rest of the Fourth Circuit forward with us.
There will be a backlash, of course. We’re heading into a midterm election year, and the fight over gay marriage is a distraction from the lack of leadership in Congress. But that backlash now has a countdown clock. In a Commonwealth and a country where 61 percent of young Republicans and 77 percent of young Democrats support gay marriage, the sound of march toward equality is getting louder.
Max Burns is the President of the Arlington Young Democrats and a member of the Sorensen Institute Political Leaders Program Class of 2014.