So, yes, it’s lamentable that political progress is generally a stop-and-go affair, with long stretches of frustration and ennui punctuated by momentary outbursts of excitement and success. As people who live daily with the effects of official discrimination — and, obviously, some in our community experience it far more directly and regularly than others of us — the desire to just get it done already can be overwhelming.
To me, that seems to be one of the driving forces behind ongoing dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. The most important success, the nail-biting drama that was the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” was far more exciting and drawn out as a process than it should have been (though that didn’t make repeal any less celebratory and real for gay and lesbian servicemembers). Other successes, such as various executive orders and agency directives on hospital visitation and federal employment protections, are important, but feel like incremental fixes to cracks in the foundation rather than the building of full equality.
When it comes to marriage equality, the picture of progress is a crazy quilt of successes and setbacks. Some gays and lesbians have it, many more don’t, and some who have it are at risk of losing it. And even among those who have it, their marriage equality is actually less than equal given that the legal status of a gay or lesbian family can change multiple times over the course of a simple vacation drive.
Knowing all that, it was good to hear on Tuesday evening that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, in an exclusive interview with Metro Weekly‘s Chris Geidner, said that he ”absolutely” supports full marriage equality for gays and lesbians, making him the first cabinet secretary to publicly take that position. And it shouldn’t be lost that he made the statement just after being the first cabinet secretary to speak to a transgender rights organization, delivering his remarks at the National Center for Transgender Equality’s awards ceremony. Donovan said, ”We’ve got a lot more work to do in the Obama administration in the second term.”
Of course, that’s the rub. On the one hand, it’s great news to see support for marriage equality — and transgender equality — moving up the ladder of government hierarchy. It’s another example of the inexorable march toward equality for all LGBT people. It’s also, given President Obama’s ”evolving” position on marriage equality, another example of how the political process seems geared to keeping LGBT people unequal for as long as possible. The wink-and-a-nod approach of supporting repeal of DOMA while simultaneously voicing opposition to actual same-sex marriage (no matter how tepid that opposition may be), continues to be an insult via semantics that doesn’t lose its sting after the statement of one cabinet secretary.
That doesn’t decrease the importance of Donovan’s statement; that’s why those incremental steps, while frustratingly paced, are vitally important. Perhaps I reach into my own memories too often — making me frustratingly paced for LGBT activists younger than I — but it’s significant that even recently the idea of ”gay marriage” was so politically toxic that no mainstream politician anywhere along the spectrum would dare support it. That’s the history and framework that makes small moments such as this so important.
But that doesn’t make it a full-on success. It’s yet another moment of smoothing over a crack in the foundation. We have to stay focused, and sometimes angry, to make sure every person on that political hierarchy, all the way to the top, knows we expect them to get it done already.