With unanimous Democratic support and a dozen Republican votes, the Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate and will soon land on President Joe Biden's desk, virtuously affirming that the United States will protect same-sex unions. That this is happening just 26 years after the bill's nasty twin, the Defense of Marriage Act, passed both houses by veto-proof majorities - and a Democratic president signed it into law - is a testament to the power of a movement to change minds.
Many have marveled over the speed with which marriage between two men or two women, once broadly considered a serious threat to core family values, has been embraced throughout the nation. In 1996, two-thirds of Americans opposed a same-sex marriage right; today, 70% of Americans support it, a figure that for the first time includes a majority of Republicans. No doubt that's because ever more people know gay and lesbian couples and believe their partnerships should be treated with dignity.
That just 24% of Republican senators and 22% of Republican representatives in the House agree with the rank-and-file voters of their own party speaks to the same problem that bedevils other issues: It's those on the fringes, who overwhelmingly choose their candidates in primaries in safe districts, who too often set the agenda.
We prefer today to think not about the senators or congressmen or presidents who have awoken to the importance of treating gays and lesbians equally, or the pols who remain on the wrong side of history, but the approximately 600,000 same-sex couples who, courtesy of an evolution in American moral thinking, now get spousal Social Security benefits; equal tax treatment; health insurance; spousal immigration rights; and other basics under the law.
That and parallel treatment by state laws will rightly soon be safeguarded no matter where in the country a couple lives - and whether or not a reactionary Supreme Court tries to reverse its 2015 decision making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. In sickness and in health, til death do we part. Straight and gay Americans are in this together.