Democracy and Gay Marriage

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I haven't posted on what happened in New York mostly because I was hoping I'd have something cool to say. 


I do not. 

All I have is the obvious fact that this is really awesome and despite the tough road ahead, I deeply believe that in a half-century, gay marriage bans will be as embarrassing to their states as "miscegenation" bans were to Alabama. In 2008.

But for right now, this is huge and direct evidence of democratic action--and yet something more:

Nobody ever expected Carl Kruger to vote yes. A Democrat from Brooklyn, known for his gruff style and shifting alliances, Senator Kruger voted against same-sex marriage two years ago, was seen as a pariah in his party and was accused in March of taking $1 million in bribes in return for political favors. 

Some gay activists, assuming he was a lost cause, had taken to picketing outside of his house and screaming that he was gay -- an approach that seemed only to harden his opposition to their agenda. (Mr. Kruger has said he is not gay.) But unbeknown to all but a few people, Mr. Kruger desperately wanted to change his vote. 

The issue, it turned out, was tearing apart his household. The gay nephew of the woman he lives with, Dorothy Turano, was so furious at Mr. Kruger for opposing same-sex marriage two years ago that he had cut off contact with both of them, devastating Ms. Turano. "I don't need this," Mr. Kruger told Senator John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic majority leader. "It has gotten personal now." 

Mr. Sampson, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, advised Mr. Kruger to focus on the nephew, not the political repercussions. "When everything else is gone," Mr. Sampson told him, "all you have left is family."

Coming out to your family is a specific trauma that doesn't really translate directly to other groups who've the felt the boot on their neck. If there's a parallel experience, it doesn't occur to me. As indicated here, it's often the source of great pain.

But it is also the source of great political power. People who seek to ostracize gays, must always countenance the potential for disappearing their very  family members. It's not like red-lining black people into ghettos. Homophobes must always face the prospect of condemning their own flesh and blood. 

Surely there are those, who, with depressing regularity,  rise to the occasion. But democracy in America is fundamentally optimistic in that holds that a critical mass of the electorate is persuadable. I've long been skeptical of this implicit assumption. But as I've aged, I have come to see it as quite brilliant. In the present case, I don't know of a more powerful tool of democratic persuasion than the prospect of losing family.

It's been tremendously inspiring to watch gay Americans wield these twin swords--humanism and democracy--against bigotry. It's also, as you've probably noticed, helped clarify my feelings around liberalism's long war. 

I don't want to give in to liberal frustrationism. I've already been there and the only logical outcome is profoundly undemocratic. As I said in comments, surely Ben Tillman reigned during the time of Ida B. Wells. But whose America do we live in? Who really won that war?
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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