Time for D.C. to catch up

TIME FOR D.C. TO CATCH UP…. On June 28, 1969, police officers raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, touching off days of riots. Forty years later, federal policy makers are in a position to finally enshrine equality in the law, but they’re not only reluctant, they’re behind the American mainstream.

[E]ven as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases across the country, the politics of gay rights remains full of crosscurrents.

It is reflected in the surge of gay men and lesbians on television and in public office, and in polls measuring a steady rise in support for gay rights measures. Despite approval in California of a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, it has been authorized in six states.

Yet if the culture is moving on, national politics is not, or at least not as rapidly. Mr. Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. The prospects that Congress will ever send him a bill overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, appear dim. An effort to extend hate-crime legislation to include gay victims has produced a bitter backlash in some quarters: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sent a letter to clerics in his state arguing that it would be destructive to “faith, families and freedom.”

“America is changing more quickly than the government,” said Linda Ketner, a gay Democrat from South Carolina who came within four percentage points of winning a Congressional seat in November. “They are lagging behind the crowd. But if I remember my poli sci from college, isn’t that the way it always works?”

The political establishment developed certain preconceived notions of how America approaches gay rights, and as of now, most of those notions are locked in the early ’90s. For Dems, that means a fear that a culture-war clash will cost the majority party dearly, seemingly unaware that polls show most Americans already support many of the measures Democrats want but are afraid to seek.

For the right, it leads to confidence that the country is on conservatives’ side, reality notwithstanding. For example, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a far-right anti-gay group, noted to the NYT that supporters of equality want to see an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but doubts the administration is willing to oblige. “I think there’s a reason for that, and that is because I think the American public isn’t there,” Perkins said.

Except, of course, the American public is there. Gallup poll released this month found that 69% of the country supports allowing openly gay men and lesbian women to serve in the military. Better yet, a clear majority (58%) of conservatives support it, too.

It’s time for policymakers to catch up to the rest of the country. Indeed, it’s past time.