Ferguson burns while Mississippi flames

It’s been a year (or two) of contradictions.

Last year, around the time the Supreme Court opened the door to nationwide gay marriages in its historic decision in US v. Windsor, the court also gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

And this year, while Ferguson, Missouri is aflame over the lack of an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson over the shooting death of Michael Brown, gay marriage bans have just been struck down in Arkansas (remember Arkansas?) and Mississippi (Mississippi!).

I’ve written before about the seeming contradiction between the pro-gay juggernaut of the past several years and the overall progressive inability to move its agenda forward.

In specific, I wrote about the women’s movement, and noted, among other things, that gays are awfully good at PR. Whether we’re getting in your face, or donning a suit and tie to suck up to ma and pa middle-America, our movement has been quite savvy about what face to show when. And in particular, gays had a strong independent phalanx of media (and politics) savvy activists:

The cover of the Arkansas Times.

The cover of the Arkansas Times.

On gay rights, the most innovative, and some of the most influential, work in the past few years came from non-standard players.  You had the gay Netroots, Get Equal, Dan Choi and a number of ticked off current and former servicemembers, which included upstart groups like OutServe and Servicemembers United, and some mainstream groups like SLDN.  And all of them were effective because they were willing to exert more pressure than is polite on the administration, and Congress.

I also pointed to the fact that gays have a more-easily demarcated injustice that they face, and can exploit in a PR-sense. Women, less so.

Dinnertime at St Pancras Workhouse, London.

Dinnertime at St Pancras Workhouse, London.

Do women face the same demonization [as gays]?  Maybe, but I don’t think the public perceives it the same.  I think today’s gay rights movement is more akin to the fight for women’s suffrage – a clear discriminatory harm that made it easier to rally against, and eventually easier to poke holes in, than the current battles facing women.  I’m not saying suffrage was easy – I’m saying that as an organizer, a political operative, the battle lines were clearer, and the issue easier to sell, in my view, than the problems women face today.

Women’s advocates, in many ways, are fighting a war of nuance.  Where gays want to get married, women don’t want the right to choose, which varies by trimester, cut back any further by a seemingly-endless series of small, but significant, legislative advances by anti-choice forces that slowly but surely whittle away at the right to choose.  The gay battle lines, and message, are much clearer, and thus an easier sell, I think.

Also, people perceive women as having already won. Gays, not so much.

From a man’s perspective, you see women getting the same jobs as man as never before.  Women are corporate CEOs, doctors and pilots and lawyers and astronauts (something noteworthy if you’re in your 40s or older and lived through a time when women simply didn’t hold those jobs), and they even become Speaker of the House, and might even become President in 2016.  And, for all appearance, Roe v Wade is still the law of the land, so it’s understandable that some might scratch their heads and ask, what are pro-choicers complaining about?  They’re complaining because in the 40 years since Roe the religious right and the Republican party have so whittled away at Roe as to make it meaningless, according to some lead women’s advocates.  And, even though women now hold many of the same jobs as men, they don’t always get the same pay.  But that takes some complicated explaining, and it contradicts what the public might consider an obvious “truth,” that Roe hasn’t been overturned, so how can it be in danger, or nearly already gone, and women “have the same jobs as men,” so what’s the problem?

Now, how does this all apply to Ferguson? I addressed that too:

[I]n many ways, African-Americans face the same problem as women.  It’s easy for people to say “slavery ended 150 years ago, and the Civil Rights Act passed 50 years ago, so the African-American struggle is over,” without realizing that, for example, some schools in the south still hold segregated proms.  People see African-American CEOs, doctors, lawyers, astronauts, and might think “they’ve won, employment discrimination over,” without understanding that, in some ways, it may never be over, at least not for a very long time.  But the devil is in the details much more so than it is with gay rights because we’re still fighting for some of the rights that African-Americans got (at least on paper) fifty years ago.  It makes our  (gay) cause, I think, easier to explain.  It also means that once we get many of our basic civil rights, gays may have the same difficulty fine-tuning those rights once people already think we have them.

African-Americans won the right to marry in 1967. Gays are still fighting for that right today today. (Ironically — well, tellingly — in nearly the exact same battlefield.)


One could argue that gays aren’t on some kind of unique roll at all. We’re simply finally winning the same successes that women and blacks won over 40 years ago. And the challenge will be to avoid the inevitable and piecemeal rollback that those other movements have suffered for decades.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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