Ben Smith of Politico has a terrific new piece on the growing political power and visibility of the gay-rights movement. It's focused on the efforts of Tim Gill, the wealthy and reclusive software mogul who for several years has been the biggest financial backer of gay right in the country--and very active, and effective, in politics, although he's been stealth about it. Gill is a fascinating character. I profiled him in The Atlantic in 2007, in a piece that contains one of my all-time favorite ledes. On a whim, I decided to call an Iowa Republican who'd been targeted and defeated by Gill's outfit--but didn't yet know that, and was quite surprised to learn about it from me.
What was interesting about Gill in 2007 was that he was the rare major donor content to remain anonymous; indeed, his political strategy of quietly jumping into races at the last moment with boatloads of money to defeat anti-gay politicians depended upon it. Gill's great success in the last few years was influencing the makeup of Iowa's state legislature, knocking off opponents and supporting gay rights' advocates (not all of them vocal), in anticipation of the Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding gay marriage. By the time that happened, the legislature had become amenable enough to gay marriage--largely as a result of Gill's years-long effort--that no law overturning the decision could pass. The court's ruling stood.
Ben's piece details Gill's efforts this past cycle in New York state, and it's a remarkable story both because Gill is still very effective, but even more so because he no longer feels the need to operate by stealth: his group is openly targeting anti-gay pols, and in a very devious, clever, and effective sort of way--mostly on issues other than gay marriage, which is often more damaging to the target. More than anything, I think, the story is a marker of just how rapidly gay rights have gained acceptance in the last three years.
But while this is encouraging, the political battle has by no means ended. Not mentioned in the Politico piece is the one bit of bad news that gay rights' advocates have encountered recently (aside from DADT), the defeat of three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who supported gay marriage--a reminder that progress comes in fits and starts.
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is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.