In October 2008 The Daily Beast was born, just days before Connecticut became the third U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, and a month before Proposition 8 was passed in California, which overturned that state’s ruling the previous May that had legalized gay marriage. (Marriage equality eventually became law in California in 2013.)
The last 10 years in American LGBT politics featured marriage equality as a red-button pivot, motivating activists pro and anti. That struggle, its hangover and practical and ideological remnants, is still being contested.
Following a momentous SCOTUS ruling, marriage equality was finally legalized nationwide in 2015; the White House that June evening was wreathed in the colors of the rainbow to mark both the key civil-rights victory and Pride month.
But ever since President Donald Trump’s election, the victory and meaning of marriage equality—so hard fought, and a brilliant achievement—has become imperiled.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the searingly-phrased ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, has retired. He was also the deciding vote in the key LGBT-focused SCOTUS cases of Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, and Windsor v. the United States (culminating in the striking down in 2013 of the discriminatory section of the Defense of Marriage Act, with the inspirational Edie Windsor as its figurehead).
President Trump is filling the Supreme Court’s empty spots with conservative justices: Neil Gorsuch is in place, Brett Kavanaugh, at the time of writing, is awaiting confirmation. The fiercely religious Vice President Mike Pence has long made clear his animus to the LGBT community, and now holds the zealotry-gilded keys to the political kingdom.
Those opposed to LGBT equality have a new drum to march behind: religious liberty. The new guard at the White House, with Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions at their ideological forefront, have chosen an insidious scythe to chop away at not just marriage equality but also other equality and anti-discrimination measures and protections.
Jim Obergefell himself wrote for Time, “With Kennedy’s retirement, I am concerned that the backlash is going to turn into a complete ripping away of every bit of equality—every bit of progress—we’ve made over these decades.”
‘Religious liberty,’ as evidenced in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, posits that it is fine to not marry gay people, or serve them in shops, or afford them equality of treatment when it comes to adoption and fostering if you, as a religious person, disapprove of them. Sessions has even set up the Orwellian-sounding Religious Liberty Task Force to search out, and help, all those who feel their ‘religious liberties’ and ‘religious freedoms’ are being trespassed upon them by having to treat LGBT people equally.
The attacks on LGBT people, using “religious liberty,” has coincided with a period of particular trans-focused prejudice. President Trump has announced his determination to ban trans people from serving in the military. States like Texas have tried to pass ‘bathroom bans’ (and in Texas’ case will possibly try once more after failing the first time), which seek to regulate where trans people can and cannot use toilets in public.
Meanwhile, trans people are being murdered and are victims of violence, which oddly doesn’t seem to bother the conservatives who have sought to make their lives so miserable and legally curtailed.
If the LGBT hope of the Obama era has dissipated when it comes to the country’s legislators, in pop culture, progress is being made in terms of LGBT representation. Not enough—but still, characters, stories and shows on screen, including in the Oscar-winning Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name, have shown a sated thirst and hunger for new LGBT narratives.
Those cultural battles on screen seem—presently at least—to be bearing more fruit than the fights on Capitol Hill and in courthouses. As The Daily Beast enters its second decade, the prevailing LGBT feeling is worry, concern, and the feeling that not only is marriage equality under threat, but so much else as well.
Hearteningly, the energy of LGBT campaigners of many ages and experiences is rising to meet such challenges, grave and ill-portending as they are.
As Obergefell wrote for Time: "I’m not just worried about the LGBTQ community. I’m scared for women’s rights, for voting rights. I’m scared for every marginalized group in this nation who relies upon the Supreme Court to live up to those four words etched into the building’s western pediment: Equal Justice Under Law.”