Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. Millions of people across the United States celebrated a victory for equality and progressivism. The decisions are historic and mark a new chapter in the fight to wrestle modernity from the hands of religious conservatives. 31 years ago it was legal to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals in all 50 states; 12 years ago the American Medical Association thought homosexuality was a disease; and nine years ago same-sex marriage was illegal no matter where people lived.
Now, same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states (as well as the District of Columbia) and six states allow civil unions. The momentum is unquestionably on the side of equality and the long arc of the moral universe does seem to be bending toward justice. This, as regressive legislatures and governors overturn racial protections and restrict access to abortion centers. National gay rights advocates largely weathered the storm of 2010 and 2012 when a series of Tea Party candidates swept to victory in the South and Midwest.
Many people attribute the success to the popularization of the idea of being gay. The popular 1990's television show "Will and Grace" is seen as launching the gay media revolution carried on by Glee, Modern Family, and others. But there is a broader, more universal principle the gay rights movement can teach all of us - norms are powerful and norm diffusion is an essential part of social and political change.