Commentary: Cory Booker Is Not Alone in Evolving on Gay Rights

The mayor of Newark described his views on gay Americans in a 1992 commentary.

Posted: 01/11/2013 01:42 PM EST

Gay rights advocates in 2013 might well be shocked and dismayed by the words of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whose 1992 commentary on the subject of homosexuality was reprinted in a recent issue of the Stanford Daily.

In that piece two decades ago, Booker said he was in his tolerance phase, or the “I don’t give a damn if someone is gay, just as long as they don’t bother me” stage. However, he added “while I was highly adroit at maintaining an air of acceptance, I couldn’t betray my feelings. I was disgusted by gays. The thought of two men kissing each other was about as appealing as a frontal lobotomy.”

Booker, a student at Stanford University at the time, continued, shockingly: “Allow me to be more direct, escaping the euphemisms of my past – I hated gays. The disgust and latent hostility I felt toward gays were subcategories of hatred, plain and simple.”

But the story here is not Booker’s feelings some 20 years ago. The fascinating issue here is how far Booker has traveled in the decades since he wrote those words. The Newark mayor has since become one of the most outspoken advocates for gay and lesbian equality.

In fact, Booker’s experience is clearly not an uncommon one. It has been played out in living rooms, schools, around office coolers and even in churches. The entire nation has been undergoing something of a transformation on the subject of tolerance, gay rights and even same-sex marriage. The pendulum has been swinging in the direction of increased tolerance for some time. And, while there is a journey still for gay Americans to achieve full equality, the evidence of change and the speed at which it is coming is, frankly, overwhelming and irreversible.

Consider the evidence.

The 106-year-old Washington National Cathedral, an Episcopal bedrock of tradition where President Woodrow Wilson is buried, said this week that it will begin performing nuptials for same-sex couples. In the election last November, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage ballot initiatives. And in Minnesota, in another first, voters rejected a proposal to the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. The votes meant that same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia.

Additionally, 2012 saw a development that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The president and vice president of the United States both announced their support of same-sex marriage and gay rights. Indeed, President Obama’s upcoming second inaugural will include another first: an openly gay poet of Cuban descent, Richard Blanco, will serve as the inaugural poet.

The nation has come around with astounding speed, far faster than it did on voting rights for African-Americans, the right for women to vote or interracial marriage. In the fast-paced world of Twitter, Facebook, reruns of Will & Grace and gay characters in Scandal, Americans are coming to understand that their lives are not threatened just because two women decide to go to City Hall for a marriage ceremony.

The issue of gay rights and gay marriage has been used by conservative Republican groups for years to infuse divisiveness into politics, and for a long time it was to their benefit. Because of widespread opposition to gay rights, Republicans would put initiatives on ballots as a means of galvanizing the conservative-leaning voters to go to the polls in larger-than-usual numbers.

The election of 2012 has proved once and for all that this technique is no longer profitable for the Republican right. Polls point unmistakably to swiftly changing American attitudes on the subject.

Obama, who once supported civil unions but not same-sex marriage, explained his shift.

“I had hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient,” Obama said. “I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word marriage was something that invokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”

“The thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule — you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated,” he said.

It is an evolution that is being experienced with each passing day not just by Barack Obama or Cory Booker but by Americans everywhere.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)