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Andrew Sullivan on Gay Marriage Ruling


Andrew Sullivan, perhaps the man most responsible for putting the notion of marriage equality into the national debate, has come out of his blogging retirement to weigh in on yesterday’s historic ruling.

In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.

I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines. Movements do not move relentlessly forward; progress comes and, just as swiftly, goes. For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.


I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never befully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day, who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

I never believed this would happen in my lifetime when I wrote my first several TNR essays and then my book, Virtually Normal, and then the anthology and the hundreds and hundreds of talks and lectures and talk-shows and call-ins and blog-posts and articles in the 1990s and 2000s. I thought the book, at least, would be something I would have to leave behind me – secure in the knowledge that its arguments were, in fact, logically irrefutable, and would endure past my own death, at least somewhere. I never for a millisecond thought I would live to be married myself. Or that it would be possible for everyone, everyone in America.

TNR appends this to the top of Sullivan’s original cover feature:

It’s become almost a cliché: “It happened so fast!” Indeed, in many respects, the shift has been sudden. Barely three years ago Vice President Joe Biden let slip his support for gay marriage, prompting President Barack Obama to endorse it a few days later. At that time, same-sex marriage was banned in two-thirds of U.S. states; that was still true of a majority of states at this time last year.

But the recent suddeness of marriage equality can not eclipse the hard-fought efforts of this decades-long civil rights struggle. The New Republic, led by the eloquently pugnacious Andrew Sullivan, first put the case for gay marriage on its cover in 1989, and the magazine has been accelerating the debate ever since.

Despite my reservations about the process that got us to this point, I’m very happy for Andrew and for my country that we’ve arrived. What was quite literally a laughable notion 25 years ago is now a legal right across the land. It’ll be far fewer than another 25 years before we wonder what the fuss was all about.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. JohnMcC says:

    Very gracious post, sir.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    Looking back ten or twenty years, as much as anything I’m surprised that I’m so happy about this, surprised at my own change in attitude. Gay marriage rights do nothing for me, but it is good for a number of people, and does me no harm. I guess it appeals to the libertarian side all good liberals have. That and the schadenfreude over the discomfiture of people who thoroughly deserve to be discomfited.

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  3. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Yah, I think a lot of us changed our opinions when we discovered we had friends who just happened to be gay. One of my friends, who is gay, did get the proverbial “oh dear, what will the neighbors think?!” when she came out to her mother. At which we all fell over laughing because everyone else was saying “Cool, she’s finally found the love of her life!”

    I know someone else who nudged me has been Melissa Scott, who’s an absolutely fantastic science fiction writer. A lot of her characters are gay or bisexual (“Shadow Man” is an interesting exploration of a seven-sexed society.) I think the power of her writing is that her characters just live their lives and do whatever they do in their societies, and oh, by the way, just happen to be queer. Quite often they’re in societies who consider them somewhat “other”, but it’s not the defining aspect of their lives–usually there are other fault-lines in the societies that have far more impact (the “wired” vs. the “unwired” in Trouble and Her Friends, for example.) And you read and you read and you read and you realize that yeah, gay people are just like you and it’s really not that big a deal.

    Which is probably why the religious right is going nuts.

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  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    @grumpy realist: Scott is a good SF and feminist writer and coincidentally, Trouble and her Friends was listed in an io9 post today as as one of the quintessential cyberpunk books.

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  5. argon says:

    @grumpy realist: I know someone else who nudged me has been Melissa Scott, who’s an absolutely fantastic science fiction writer.

    Ah, so you’re one of the reasons the ‘Sad Puppies’ can’t get enough scifi published about manly space warriors bedding Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six and stuff like that. The introspective and thoughtful reading habits of your market demographic, while clearly a formidable market force, is completely ruining it for them (who oddly enough often claim to be libertarian free-marketeers).

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  6. grumpy realist says:

    @argon: Which is pretty silly because some of the best space opera around has been written by people like Elizabeth Moon and Steven Miller/Sharon Lee.

    I honestly don’t know what sort of science fiction the Gamergaters want. Incessant repeats of the Lensman series?

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  7. Argon says:

    @grumpy realist: Well, I doubt you’d find Ursula K. Le Guin, Sheri Tepper or Octavia Butler on their nightstands.

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  8. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    some of the best space opera around has been written by people like Elizabeth Moon and Steven Miller/Sharon Lee.

    Dang. I was reasonably sure that I was the only avid Lee & Miller fan in this neighborhood. I’m counting the days until Alliance of Equals is available as an eARC…

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