Brace yourselves. This post gets academic.
Social change in America does not happen overnight. Groups advocating social change (hereon referred to as social movements) have to consistently apply pressure to political lawmakers in order to even be considered on the national stage. These social movements work tirelessly to further their cause, but such work only helps their cause to an extent. At some point there is enough pressure from the public that the ball is 100% in the policymaker’s court; however, finally achieving the desired success requires favorable outside factors to complement the work done by the social movement.
In fact, the social movements specifically pandering for sexual or racial equality need the U.S. to be in a full-scale war that requires conscription.
Why must the U.S. be at war in order to achieve sexual or racial equality? My theory is that when things (diplomatically, economically, culturally, etc.) are going well in a country, the social ladder freezes in place and nothing changes in re sexual or racial equality. But when things turn for the worse and the U.S. is at war, policymakers are more likely to eliminate some of the bottom rungs of the social ladder, changing American society for the better.
Let’s take a look at how history backs this theory. First, take a look at three periods in post Civil War American history when the social ladder seemed to freeze. First, between the end of WWI and the Great Depression, America experienced the Roaring Twenties. Culturally, economically, and diplomatically, the Roaring Twenties were a time of great cultural output in a thriving economy during peacetime. From 1919-1921, America suffered the first Red Scare. During the scare America grew increasingly xenophobic and close-minded. This xenophobia led to the passage of the Emergency Quota Act in 1921 and then later the Immigration Act of 1924, both of which set quotas on how many foreigners could enter the country. Second, look at the period immediately after WWII. The U.S. boomed with economic and cultural prosperity after winning the war. But sadly this period fell victim to McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare. Once again, America turned increasingly xenophobic and racist. Third, look at the age of American Imperialism from post Civil War to pre World War I. During this period American industries rose to the forefront of the global market. America was firing on all cylinders by exerting their imperial dominance over weaker countries and colonies. But this time of American prosperity also marked the beginning of the Jim Crow laws, hindering the equality of African-Americans.
What about the other half of the theory? The Emancipation Proclamation liberated the slaves in the South during the Civil War. Women’s suffrage was passed during World War I. World War II brought about an influx of working women and minorities. Congress enacted the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1951 (it removed racial and ethnic barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen) during the Korean War. Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act during the Vietnam War. These prominent social movements concerning sexual and racial equality all share a common theme: they were passed during wars that needed the draft.
So what does this theory say about the fight for gay marriage? The social movement most comparable to gay marriage in the past quite clearly is interracial marriage. The Supreme Court deemed interracial marriage legal in 1967, during the thick of the Vietnam War.
As an advocate for gay marriage, I pray we don’t need to start a huge war that needs to use the draft, but I fear we may have to wait until then to finally see a national law legalizing gay marriage.