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Opinion: Gay Marriage - It Doesn't 'Get Better' On Its Own

Friday, July 01, 2011 - 02:57 PM

The rainbow flag symbolizing gay pride flies from a pole in Manhattan on June 21, 2011 in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty)

In response to a series of high-profile suicides by LGBT teens, Dan Savage recorded a video assuring gay youth that "it gets better."  The directness and honesty of the video spread it rapidly over YouTube; inspired countless response videos; and launched the It Gets Better Project.

The project has expanded to thousands of videos from regular Americans and celebrities, gay adults and straight allies, sports teams and political leaders, including one from our President who stared into a camera and promised, "You are not alone"…"your differences are a source of pride, a source of strength"…and "things will gets better."

Recent victories for equality show that things are in fact getting better. In December, the Senate finally joined the house in repealing the discriminatory policy Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

One week ago, the New York State Senate joined the Assembly to pass marriage equality, the first time Republicans have helped expand this right.  Polling shows a shift in the American public in favor of greater equality.

And an increasing number of Senators are calling more vocally for the repeal of DOMA, the federal law that stands as one of the greatest obstacles to marriage equality. There are leaders - advocates, elected, citizens - who are working to ensure that "It Gets Better" is more than a phrase.

Yet, President Obama, it seems, isn't ready to be one of those leaders.

Following the repeal of DADT, there were still reports of gay servicemen being discharged.

Furthermore, as Albany was making a historic move, the President ducked a chance to be bold himself, saying his views on marriage equality were "evolving" and getting heckled by gay activists.

Why doesn't our President -- whose parents mix-race marriage would have once been declared illegal in many states -- assert that equality is a federal issue and put himself on the right side of history?

Some argue that it's a strategy for 2012, that he doesn't want to ignite a backlash among conservative Christian Right voters. Others suggest it's a more immediate calculation: with a Congress that won't even raise a debt limit, that defends oil companies and hedge funds, that has made a crusade against Planned Parenthood, a repeal of DOMA just isn't practical, so why let it become a distraction? 

Another view is that the President can only lead so much on this -- and that it's the role of passionate Senators and Representatives, backed by devoted advocates, to build support -- and that the President plays his part later in the struggle. And the President's team assures its gay supporters that the Justice Department's decision not to defend DOMA shows where the Administration stands on the issue.

All of which may be true, but that doesn't make it leadership. When the President assures a young gay American, "Your differences are a source of pride, a source of strength," then says his own views are "evolving" about that young person's lifestyle, he sounds like a hypocrite.  If I were a gay teen, I wouldn't believe in a leader who treated me as a calculation.  I'd believe in the leaders who don't just deliver honest-sounding videos but speak as honestly and unwaveringly in every platform they command.

I'd believe in leaders like the Democratic Senators sponsoring the repeal of DOMA, who just recorded a group "It Gets Better" video.

These Senators have taken a strong stance on the next round of the fight for equality.

Their video says something important.  Not just that "it gets better," but as each the 12 Senators from 11 states promise: "We're working to make it better.  We're making it better."

Marriage equality passed in New York because of the many activists who made it better.  DADT was repealed because Senators spent their capital to make it better.  And the next fights -- in municipalities, states and on Capital Hill will require people to "make it better."

The President's team might have a strategy, but caution and hedging aren't the compelling honesty and commitment we are looking for.  LGBT youth need to see their allies -- including their President -- actively working on the right side of history…because while it may get better, it doesn't get better on its own.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."

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