Over at SAVE Dade's offices, executive director Heddy Peña is already looking to a distant calendar, one that contests Bill Stephens's version of history. "This is going to go way beyond November 2006," Peña insists. "Just like the civil rights movement did for African Americans, it spans decades, not a single year. And just as that movement saw backlashes, we're going to see backlashes. But I really believe Americans are people who, at the end of the day, believe in fairness. And that's why the numbers keep improving." Referring to Miami-Dade's gay rights law, Peña continues: "That's why the human rights ordinance failed in 1977 but passed in 1998. And I think it's going to keep moving forward. We're going to look back on this moment in history and not understand why people were so hateful towards gays."
On that point at least, the numbers are on Peña's side. Bob Meadows has charted a clear generational split over gay rights in Florida that mirrors national trends. "For young people, although they may use antigay rhetoric or epithets, there's much more tolerance," he notes. "They've grown up in a much more diverse world. I've done focus groups with older folks, 55 to 65 and especially folks who are over 65 years old. They say, 'It just wasn't like that when I was growing up. We always suspected somebody in my navy unit or where I worked was gay, but they kept it to themselves. Now everybody's out there.' They're horrified by it. While younger people say, 'Somebody's gay?Whatever.' For the 2006 election, as opposed to the 2016 or 2026 election, it's a difficult environment. But as old people die out and are replaced by people who are currently young with different attitudes towards GLBT issues, things are likely to change."
Opponents of gay marriage come out of the pews and
into the streets
You don't have to rely on Meadows's research to glimpse the future though. In the latest issue of the gay news magazine The Advocate, stories about discharged gay soldiers and bashed lesbian students are more than a little depressing. Even as a new generation comes of age, the political mood seems increasingly hostile. Yet turn your gaze to the magazine's advertisements, and you may think the struggle over gay rights is moot. There's page after page of gay-themed ads from a host of corporate America's giants -- Bridgestone tires, Chase bank, Delta airlines, IBM -- all viewing gay households as a given. Most striking of all is an ad for Tylenol: Two slightly frumpy male torsos lie awake together in bed. "His backache is keeping him up," reads the caption underneath one pair of unhappily crossed arms. "His boyfriend's backache is keeping him up," reads the tag under the other set of weary limbs.
It's a portrait of gay domesticity in all its humdrum normality -- neither fabulous nor militant. Just another couple trying to get a decent night of sleep before going off to work the next day. Which might be the most revolutionary notion of all.
Florida's Fight Over Gay Marriage
Would you be leaning toward voting yes or no on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Florida?
I would be willing to grant some rights to gay and lesbian couples through domestic partnership laws, but marriage is just too much.
Do you favor: permitting children to be adopted by qualified gay or lesbian parents?
Do you favor: banning discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation?
Do you favor: banning discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants or hotels based on sexual orientation?
Source: This survey of 1200 likely Florida voters was conducted statewide by Washington D.C.’s Lake Snell Perry Mermin Decision Research, May 21-28. According to poll director Bob Meadows, there is a five to eight percent margin of error with pro-gay rights responses.