Last week contained the latest two landmark events in the march toward equal rights for gays -- the coming out of NBA player Jason Collins, and the approval of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island by the governor and Legislature, making gay marriage the law of the land in New England. The year 2013 may be remembered as the year the tide turned on the biggest civil rights cause of the early 21st century, and there will be no reversing it.
The sports world tends not to be on the cutting edge of societal change but it can be a good indicator of what is now acceptable to the mainstream. The decision of Mr. Collins, a former Boston Celtics center and NBA veteran, to announce that he is gay, and the generally supportive reaction his announcement triggered, indicate that society is increasingly accepting of homosexuality. More and more people are learning that they have gay friends or family members, which makes it difficult to accept abhorrent stereotypes about gays based on myth and meanness. Mr. Collins, who is black and gay, is twice a minority, but the most remarkable thing about him is that he stands seven feet tall.
None of the arguments made against gay marriage by opponents in Rhode Island could withstand the quiet example set just to the north. Gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for a decade and neither society in general nor the institution of marriage in particular have been weakened. Foes could never resolve their contradictory stance that marriage is an institution for good that should nonetheless be denied a substantial portion of the population. That institution is now stronger in the New England states and the four others that have made gay marriage a right.
Mr. Collins, who finished the NBA regular season with the Washington Wizards, revealed in his coming out story in Sports Illustrated that he regretted not testifying before the U.S. Supreme Court when it held hearings earlier this year on the possible repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act three miles from his D.C. apartment. He needn't chastise himself. The patently unconstitutional, anti-gay marriage DOMA may ultimately survive by the familiar 5-4 vote, but it is unlikely to be enforced. The tide has turned on gay marriage, and discriminatory precepts, bad laws and bigoted stereotypes are being swept away with that tide.