All men are born free and equal in dignity and in rights.” The US Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1776, explicitly detailing a moral compass to which society should adhere. Two hundred and thirty-nine years later, after the Supreme Court judgment on same-sex marriage, some of the aforementioned men (and women) can finally concur. Now, that’s a pretty long time to hang around the street corners and back alleys of justice. Just ask Marc Solomon: the national campaign manager for Freedom To Marry and author of Winning Marriage, a comprehensive political history of his campaign for equal marriage. He’s been exhaustive in his attempts to align the US judiciary and elected leaders in accepting the basic tenet of human rights – that everyone should be treated equally and without prejudice. And he is the architect of a momentous, civil victory. I recently spoke with the author in New York City.
To knit the patchwork of a progressive social fabric can be a laborious process. However, the US has moved remarkably swiftly since Mr Solomon began his visionary movement back in 2003. Then, public support for equal marriage was languishing around 30 per cent. Thirty-seven states later, from Massachusetts to Iowa, it is now well over 60 per cent and rising. It has been an intricate process of engagement and evolution. “You don’t get the whole country at once in America,” says Solomon. The perception that marriage would somehow be sullied if gay people were allowed to run riot within it has been strong, and not just in conservative strongholds. Only twenty countries around the world have now approved same-sex marriage nationwide and it was only two years ago that the UK, the so-called cradle of democracy, passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.
Of those twenty countries, twelve are European, and I wonder why a more liberal attitude to marriage equality has become so continent-centric. Solomon says that religiosity in Europe is less stern than in other parts of the world, and that the United States has been hindered by a large evangelical Protestant culture which still wields significant influence. How about Catholic countries such as Spain and Ireland where theological teachings towards marriage revolve around the ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’ blather? Yes, the author says, but Catholic people are much less likely to follow the doctrine of their hierarchy than the apostolic religious right of America.
The stunning victory for the Ireland ‘Yes’ campaign in May this year, to which Solomon offered counsel, poses an issue of conscience for me – should referenda, the public vote, be invoked in deigning rights to citizens? Solomon expresses reservations about such methods in aiding discriminated peoples, as it can exacerbate negative stereotypes. Although he fought at the ballot box in the US also (note Prop 8 in California) the campaigner suggests that the courts have the crucial role to play, as evident with the SCOTUS pronouncement. They are not only the arbiters of legality, but of public opinion, and put the “stamp of approval” on social progress. Elected officials and politicians are the moral gatekeepers of their constituency, and therefore best placed to react to the overwhelming progress in public sympathy that marriage equality has gained over the last twenty years.
The intellectual arguments surrounding equality for same-sex couples, such as whether the gay community is merely seeking a ‘heteronormative’ state and whether the institution of marriage is, in itself, flawed, are incidental. Solomon suggests the paramount in question is that of equal opportunity – marriage should be a rite of passage (forgive the religious reference), a union of two hopefully loving people, whatever their creed, colour, culture, gender. The author argues that equal marriage is simply not an intrusive social issue due to the relatively small population of gay people around the world (try telling that to the Pride organisers in London, Lisbon, LA etc.). I am minded to think that there is far too much weight given to the cultural significance of marriage in all our societies – the social narrative is still unreasonably skewed in favour of this fairy-tale foundation. Yet Solomon aptly points out that it is indeed an ingrained part of society – legally and culturally – and is a terrific institution that supports families, provides moral guidance and financial incentive. Gay people, he says, should be a part of that. Everyone should be invited to the party.
As an ex-Capitol Hill Republican, Solomon does not appear to be the obvious standard-bearer of the gay rights movement. He explains that support of equal marriage amongst young Republicans, including evangelical Christians, is rising to over 56 per cent. And then there’s Hilary. Solomon thinks that she will ensure that LGBT rights will still be on the agenda in 2016, and she will differentiate herself from the Republican candidates, who will eventually start taking a more nuanced position in the long-term. There is still much to be done beyond today to ensure LGBT rights, like any other, are universal, constant, worthy and essential.
Civil liberty can be dirty work but someone has to do it. Without the Marc Solomons of this world the voice of clarity and progression would continue to be stifled and silenced so that minorities remain inferior, overlooked and marginalised. His stark success is in the simple fact that his movement is now almost obsolete. For me, the issue of same-sex marriage is not of the institution itself, for which I care little, but the fundamental aspect of equality, fairness, and societal acceptance. Let’s yearn for tomorrow, when the terms gay marriage, same-sex marriage, and marriage equality are so outlandish as to be anachronistic. It’s just marriage, stupid. For now, let’s celebrate today. Thank you Mr Solomon.