IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

To make real progress, more gay Americans must run for political office

Something Chief Justice Roberts said this week stood out to me.

Something Chief Justice Roberts said this week stood out to me. He said, speaking of gay marriage, "I suppose the sea change has a lot to do with the political force and effectiveness of people representing, supporting your side of the case?" He added, "You don't doubt that the lobby supporting the enactment of same sex-marriage laws in different states is politically powerful, do you?" Actually, sir, I do.

If gay Americans were as powerful as he imagines we would not be debating their rights at all, they would have them. But in the real world gay rights groups are massively outspent by their opponents and the stampede of federal elected officials declaring support for gay marriage includes only one Republican senator--so how will that trend lead to legislation?

The Supreme Court appears poised to overturn DOMA and to return gay marriage to California on a technicality, but the court is unlikely to address the 31 states that have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. So gays and lesbians who live in those states will continue to wait for equal protection and equal rights. It looks as though we are headed for a stalemate where many blue states allow same sex marriage or civil unions and all of the red states do not. And with bans enshrined in their constitutions it'll take fundamental change in the composition of those states to overturn the bans.

I believe victory is inevitable for the gay rights movement, but justice delayed is justice denied. We may be about to enter a the long slog phase where progress slows to a crawl. So what is the way forward? Despite what the Chief Justice thinks, gays and lesbians lack political power and this is because they are underrepresented in the political process. This is the argument of an amicus brief filed by 12 political scientists as part of Hollingsworth v Perry, aka Prop 8. Gays and lesbians make up 3.5% of the population but there are only six openly gay or lesbian representatives and only one openly gay senator. The percentage in state legislatures is even worse.

Under-representation in political office, the brief argues, constrains a group's political power. Female officials are more likely to introduce and vote for bills important to women, Black elected officials are more likely to introduce and vote for bills important to blacks and, more than that, members of an oppressed group will shape the entire body just as having gay family members makes you more likely to support gay rights. Gay America can no longer hope elected officials will do the right thing just because public pressure is rising. They can no longer rely on asking others to give them this precious right. They must be in the arena, as elected officials, demanding it.

The Supreme Court will help, but only so much. The voters will, most of the time, vote against gay rights, especially in red states. A segment of America will remain Archie Bunkerish on this issue for years to come and gay Americans should not have to wait until those people die off to enjoy equal protection and full citizenship.

More gay Americans must make elected office a goal and more rich gays must help the cause and more of us who care about this issue must support the victory fund, a group dedicated to getting openly gay and lesbian Americans into elected office. When there are more openly gay elected officials in state and federal office then the end of this form of segregation will be near.