Recognizing The Leaders Who Stood Up Against DOMA Before It Was Popular

So few are the moments when doing what’s popular means doing what’s right. While public opinion has shown a steady and increasing majority in favor of rights for same-sex couples, it’s important to consider how a law denying rights to millions was ultimately left in the hands of five justices.

DOMA is an opportunity to consider how quickly a law passed with bipartisan support can fall to the curb as society eclipses their leaders in coming to understand what’s right and wrong. These evolutions are important moments that should be encouraged. After all, some Americans are still evolving on these issues. But more importantly, we should encourage our leaders who recognize the damage done in codifying discrimination or worse yet, spending precious resources litigating it beyond reason.

Today’s Supreme Court victory in overturning DOMA belongs to those who stood up when it wasn’t easy– the advocates, families, and allies of every political stripe who backed equality before it was popular. They held the faith and believed today was possible when few did.

Still, these narrow 5-4 decisions represent a tough reality for Americans — one in which basic rights like voting and marriage are left dangling by a thread. While it’s clear that equality should be a guarantee afforded by our constitution, we must recognize leaders who understand this past the politics of the moment.

In 1996, former Senator Chuck Robb (D-VA) was the only southern Senator to vote against DOMA. Describing his opposition to the discriminatory law and the uncomfortable debate surrounding same-sex rights at the time, he said, “We cannot allow our discomfort to be used to justify discrimination. We are not entitled to that indulgence. We cannot afford it.” Robb is joined by those five justices who overturned DOMA and countless others on the right side of history today on this, his 73rd birthday.

Leaders who stood against DOMA in 1996 fought to keep discrimination from becoming the law of the land when it was not easy or popular. It’s the best example of why we should never compromise on issues of equality, leaving so much at stake for so many in today’s decision.

Our guest blogger is Jon Shields, the Special Assistant for Communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.