In 1968, the year he was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy predicted that in 40 years the United States would have a black president. It is 2008; he was spot on.
Since Obama’s historic electoral triumph, I’ve read that the White House doors are wide open to a marvelous range of people of different genders and ethnicities. However, I don’t remember a gay man or lesbian making the list.
I certainly do not posses Bobby Kennedy’s prognosticating skills, but given the American people’s willingness to change and to understand that denying rights to others contradicts the Constitution, I’ll climb out on a limb and make the following prediction: Within 40 years, an openly gay man or lesbian will be elected president of the U.S.
The climb to this summit may seem long and steep, given the results of votes on recent ballot propositions, which most pundits consider a tragedy for gay and lesbian citizens. Take a look at the results of these ballot initiatives:
- Floridians and Arizonians approved anti-gay marriage amendments to their state constitutions;
- Californians, who like to think they live in one of the most progressive states in the nation, approved Proposition 8, which strips thousands of same-sex couples of their right to marry; and
- Arkansans approved a ban on people who are “cohabitating outside of a valid marriage” from serving as foster parents or adopting children.
Currently, same-sex marriage is only legal in two states: Massachusetts and Connecticut. What will happen in other states, where the issue is certain to arise again? Where will the successful alliance of Mormons, Catholics and evangelicals that defeated Proposition 8 turn next? Groups in this alliance raised $40 million dollars and sent armies of volunteers to California. They have a paradigm that works. Will they decide to try to ban domestic partnerships state by state?
We shouldn’t be discouraged. The effort to bring African-Americans into the mainstream of American life that was created and propagated by the white power majority, to ameliorate racism and poverty and to begin making Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams come true began at an equally low point in American history: back-to-back assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. Yet our society has made incredible progress since then, and there is more work ahead of us. If we can make progress with racism, why not with homophobia?
As part of their sex education classes, high school students should examine gay people’s future in American life, including their right to marry whomever they love and to produce or adopt children. I propose that educators facilitate student debates that focus on my prediction: Within 40 years, the U.S. will elect an openly gay man or lesbian as its president.
It will take a lot of guts for educators to arrange these debates. Yet it could be a valuable intellectual and emotional experience for students, whether they argue for the proposition or against it. I recommend that students read the following before preparing their arguments:
- At least one of the decisions by the Massachusetts, Connecticut and California Supreme Courts on legalizing gay marriage, and
- “Young, Gay and Murdered,” a Newsweek cover story on the death of Larry King, an openly gay middle schooler.
Coming off President-elect Obama’s thrilling win, which was enthusiastically backed by so many young people, a debate like this would focus on another stumbling block to full equality for all Americans. As a conclusion and possible catharsis following the debate, I recommend that classes watch MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann’s powerful video (below) about love, marriage, religion and what it means to be a good human being.
If anyone within the sound of this blog plans to implement this idea for a lesson, please record it and send us the clip. We’ll run it on our site.