I admit that my matriarch of a grandmother, always the prim and proper Dallas Republican, would roll over in her grave at the thought of gay couples getting married. She was born in 1910, a very different time.
More than a century and 14 seasons of Ozzie and Harriet later, it goes without saying that things have changed on the marriage front. In fact, marriage equality may be coming to Texas sooner than people think.
Forty-four percent of Americans live in one of the 19 states where committed gay and lesbian couples can now marry. Polls have shown that a strong majority of Americans, including young evangelicals and Republicans under the age of 45, are now on board. And courts across the country — even in deep-red states like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Utah — are rejecting state bans on marriage for same-sex couples.
Texas isn’t immune to that momentum. In February, a federal judge in San Antonio struck down Texas’ marriage ban, writing that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses and demeans gay couples' "dignity for no legitimate reason.”
Just as encouraging, Texans’ attitudes on the subject have changed dramatically in recent years. A poll conducted earlier this year by Texas Tech University found that more Texans now support marriage equality than oppose it — 48 percent to 47 percent. That’s a far cry from the 76 percent of Texans who voted against it almost a decade ago. The pendulum has swung — and not just in Austin.
Of course, some opponents will keep injecting invective into the debate. At an appearance in San Francisco last week, Gov. Rick Perry compared homosexuality to alcoholism. Big Earl's restaurant in East Texas drew attention last month after a waitress called a gay couple “fags” and told them not to return. But these are the few, loud exceptions that make headlines.
Texans are freedom-loving and fair-minded. Many Republicans have come to support the freedom for gay couples to marry because they value individual liberty and want less government intrusion in people’s lives. There’s an economic argument, too: Gay weddings would spur at least $180 million in economic activity in Texas within three years if same-sex marriage were legalized, according to a 2012 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting that there was no justifiable reason for such discrimination, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, extending federal benefits to same-sex couples. As soon as next year, the justices could take up another case that would determine the fate of the marriage bans still standing across the country.
Let’s hope the court acts as soon as possible. As the gut-wrenching stories in dozens of cases filed across the country have shown, gay couples and their children experience real harm when they can’t marry.
Having recently returned to Texas after a decade in Washington, D.C., I’ve been pleasantly surprised. We are much further along on freedom and equality than I thought.
Marriage equality is coming, and Texas is ready for it.