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John Perilli: Beware, the Marriage Equality Backlash Is Coming

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


The LGBTQ equality movement must stay the course and keep fighting the good fight, believes John Perilli

The pendulum of politics can be fickle and cruel.

Last May, Rhode Island became the tenth state to allow for full marriage rights for same sex couples. It was a triumphant ending to a nearly twenty year struggle. Then as if on cue, the barriers for marriage equality in other states began to fall like ninepins. And by the end of 2013, eighteen states had marriage equality, nine more than a year before.

But the resistance wasn't done yet.

In 2014, while the trend of courts striking down laws prohibiting gay marriage has continued, another more disturbing countertrend has arisen. In Kansas and Arizona, state legislatures seriously considered passing what are effectively anti-gay segregation bills which would allow businesses to deny service to LGBTQ customers based on so-called "religious liberty."

With the equality movement making such tremendous strides so fast, it was only a matter of time before the pushback came. But the equality movement cannot fold now. They must be stronger than ever, put some of their hard-won momentum on defense, and stay the course. This will only be one of a series of battles that must be won before LGBTQ rights are fully accepted across America.

Fitting the Pattern

The anti-gay bills in Arizona and Kansas might seem like aberrations, but they are actually part of a longstanding, rather simple pattern in American politics. One that plays itself out whenever we are consumed by a great social debate: Where there is momentum, there will eventually be counter-momentum.

From the backlash against organized labor in the 1920s to the pushback against feminism in the 1980s, our social history is stitched with this pattern. Degrees of severity might differ, but with few exceptions, the basic dynamics do not.

As marriage equality marched across the nation, many observers wondered if, or when, a backlash might come. Some have dismissed the idea of a gay rights backlash, while others were more wary. But with the anti-gay bills in Arizona and Kansas arriving so close together on such a shocking wave of support, there can be no doubt. A strong, institutional backswing against the progress of gay rights has arrived.

This can be taken two ways. For one, it is a compliment to the marriage equality and gay rights movements for how far they have come in such a short span of time. But on the other hand, it is a warning. If the bills in Arizona and Kansas are part of a pattern, then that pattern could certainly spread. Georgia, Ohio and several others have already considered introducing anti-gay laws of their own.

The equality movement can't rest on its victories. What is to be done?

Strategic Defense

The dominant message of the equality movement has been positive. In Rhode Island and elsewhere, the main theme of the campaign has been that LGBTQ folks should have the same rights as anyone else. It's simple. It's compelling. It doesn't accuse anyone of anything.

However, with the arrival of the Arizona/Kansas legislation, it might be time for a change of plans. Rather than constantly playing offense, gay rights advocates should make a serious commitment to play defense in the short-to-medium term. This involves more than just making an accusatory Facebook graphic or two and writing a few op-eds. This means advocacy groups must invest in permanent infrastructure and staff devoted to combatting the opposition.

Yes, the message ideally ought to be one of openness and inclusion. But nothing would hobble the movement more than if these anti-gay bills began to pass. The bill in Kansas passed one house of the legislature, and was terribly close to passing the other. In Arizona, the bill is on the Governor's desk. This sort of counter-momentum would put the equality movement on a severe back foot. Would we rather play defense for a short while now, or for a long time later?

Holding the Line

In broader terms, though, what's most important for the equality movement to do is to stay the course. With court decisions pouring in from state after state, the push for equality could start to seem, dare I say it, a bit too simple. This cannot be the mindset advocates take. The struggle is not complete. Advocacy groups and campaigns must continue to make legal challenges, pressure state legislatures, and keep up the fight on every front.

Nor will Arizona and Kansas's anti-gay bills be the last obstacle the equality movement must overcome. Marriage equality is an important standard-bearer for gay rights in general, but LGBTQ Americans face many other challenges, from lack of job security, to healthcare issues, to bullying. Marriage is not the be-all-end-all for LGBTQ rights. And even if the United States becomes fully accepting of equality in every way, what of the rest of the world? It is now essentially illegal to be gay in Uganda, and while the Sochi Olympics may be over, the specter of LGBTQ oppression still hangs over Russia.

The road to equality is long, but each obstacle along the way is immediate and pressing when it comes. The recent laws in Arizona and Kansas are only two steps along a series of struggles, but the backlash must be overcome. If it is, though, we are that much closer to equality.

John Perilli is a native of Cumberland, RI and a junior at Brown University. He is the Communications Director for the Brown University Democrats. The opinions presented in this article do not necessarily represent those of the organizations of which John Perilli is a member. 


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So much for "Love the sinner, hate the sin", wouldn't you say?

Comment #1 by Patrick Boyd on 2014 02 26

In November 2009, the draft-dodging chicken-hawk Don Carcieri vetoed H 5294 which, would allow domestic partners to oversee and care for a same-sex partner's funeral arrangements. The bill was motivated by an event when the Carcieri administration's health department refused to release the body of a man to his 17 year same-sex partner In his veto message, the lying, loony Carcieri wrote "This bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage".

Of course the bill had absolutely NOTHING to do with marriage....LOL

Thankfully the Republicans joined with the Democrats in overriding Carcieri's veto
Sammy in Arizona

Comment #2 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 02 26

Marriage is not a right -- never can be. There are different classes of people who are not permitted to marry: minors, individuals with mental defects, etc.

Furthermore, the reason there is counter-mentum, starting with the Duck Dynasty resorting of Phil Robertson and then the AZ bill, is that individuals, whether gay or straight, are recognizing that the aggressive homosexual agenda is eroding other people's rights -- right to conduct business, freedom of religion and the press. Americans are tired of being bullied with the "bigotry" or "anti-gay" hate card, because it is simply not true.

A Pastor in Norway was arrested just for preaching against sexual deviancy- adultery, fornication and homosexuality. In Canada, there are laws which punish people for criticizing homosexuality, too. That is wrong!

A baker in Oregon lost a lawsuit following his refusal to bake a cake for a gay couple. It's his business. He as a right to refuse service to individuals who choose to engage in homosexual conduct.

Being "gay is not like being black, Hispanic, etc. - no one is born gay, ergo not a civil right to gay marriage, gay adoption, etc.

Look what happened in Massachusetts following 2004 ruling on gay marriage. Catholic adoption agencies were forced to close. In public schools, now kids are being taught they could be gay. Are you kidding me?!

In the words of Ben Shapiro, Americans of all stripes are "punching back, twice as hard." By the way, it' time to restore marriage as a civil, i.e. private matter altogether, and get the government out of "I do."

Comment #3 by Arthur Schaper on 2014 02 26

Hi Arthur

Thanks for the comment.

First of all, there will never be laws in the United States like those in Canada and Norway that punish criticizing homosexuality because of our exceptionally strong free speech protections. I don't agree with those laws for that exact reason.

However, I view the burden on businesses as working the other way--in other words, if you're going to run a business, you had better be ready to serve everyone whose identity is protected under nondiscrimination law. This includes race, religion and now, in many cases, sexual orientation.

There are obviously some First Amendment exceptions, such as religious institutions not having to marry gay couples, but since the Civil Rights era the government has taken a strong (and court-upheld) interest in protecting citizens from private-sector discrimination, which was and still is a huge problem. If a state (or the country) wants to add "sexual orientation" to that list of protected categories, they are well within their power to do so.

Comment #4 by John Perilli on 2014 02 26

Mr. Perilli:

Thank you for our thoughtful and RESPECTFUL response!

Comment #5 by Arthur Schaper on 2014 02 26

Dear child still in college, your ivy league status does not give you the right to pontificate to those of us who choose to practice our endowed 1st amendment rights. Sorry if we do not all genuflect to your cause that effects a minority of people.

Comment #6 by Silence Dogood on 2014 02 27

oh also these bills are not "anti-gay" as you so incorrectly phrased it. These bills never mentioned the word gay or homosexual. They are in point of fact, pro-religious freedom laws

Comment #7 by Silence Dogood on 2014 02 27

Arthur is correct. Marriage is not a right. But this is America, not Canada. We are all guaranteed equal protection under the law and the same human and civil rights. One group of people should not be isolated legally because of their beliefs or practices, whether that's homosexuality of Christianity. The courts have been resoundingly upholding that position.

People of faith need to distinguish between what offends their sensibilities and what prevents them from the practice of their faith. While Christians and members of other faiths might believe that homosexuality is a sin, serving gay people at a restaurant or taking pictures at their weddings or helping worthy gay couples become adoptive parents might offend people of strong religious beliefs, but none of that prevents them from the practice of their faith. We all need to be more tolerant of things that offend us rather than actually harm us, and faith should not serve as an excuse isolate others.

Comment #8 by John Onamas on 2014 02 27

Sammy-you love to call people draft dodgers-in the case of Dick Cheney and some of the neocons around him it's true-same for Bill Clinton,Sammy boy-When and where did you serve?I was in Vietnam 1968-69-fun times.If you weren't in the service,calling others draft dodgers seems kind of hypocritical.Maybe you're too young for the draft,but if you feel so strongly about people who avoid service you could have enlisted-just sayin'.
I think homosexuality is abnormal.I am entitled to say so by the 1st amendment but I don't really get involved in the whole dispute because I think there are more important issues-I just don't think it should be a subject of discussion in grade school-the questions around sexuality are more appropriate for high school.A church shouldn't be forced to perform a same sex marriage,but I don't think a restaurant should be able to refuse service except if someone is intoxicated or maybe dressed in pajamas.

Comment #9 by Joseph Bernstein on 2014 02 27

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