The recent endorsement of gay marriage by U.S. President Barack Obama was a milestone for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and could gain more support among younger voters who already overwhelmingly back same-sex marriages, according to a prominent American gay rights activist.
Mark Bromley, chairman of the Council for Global Equality, a 21-group coalition seeking a clearer and stronger U.S. position on global LGBT issues, said Monday in Tokyo that while same-sex marriage would be an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, it would not take center stage in a way that it could hurt the re-election chances of Obama, who in May became the first sitting U.S. leader to support gay marriage.
“I am optimistic that the polling is going to show eventually that it’s going to have a minimum impact on actual votes, and eventually gain some ground,” Bromley said during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Bromley’s Tokyo visit was part of a push by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to celebrate LGBT Pride Month in June at U.S. embassies worldwide.
Clinton made a historic speech last December at the United Nations in Geneva, where she declared “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” The speech made it clear the U.S. would consider the treatment of LGBT men and women when making aid and asylum decisions.
During Bromley’s one-week tour of Japan, which began May 29, he also met with Japanese lawmakers, students and members of nongovernment organizations to discuss how they could improve the rights of the domestic LGBT community.
When asked about LGBT acceptance in Japan, Bromley, who studied at Waseda University as an exchange student 25 years ago, said the Japanese media fail to portray openly LGBT characters as respected professionals or members of society, but there is a basic level of social and legal acceptance, such as not criminalizing sexual orientation.
“The advocacy group is still coming together and formulating their demands for greater respect and acceptance,” Bromley said. “Progress starts with honest conversation.”
In the U.S., states have historically led the equality movement, with six states legalizing same-sex marriage and passing nondiscriminatory laws for LGBT individuals in the workplace. But the Obama administration took the issue to the federal level, making huge leaps in recognizing LGBT rights. The so-called don’t ask, don’t tell policy, which banned homosexuals from openly serving in the military, was repealed in December 2010.
The increasing support for marriage equality was underlined when the federal appeals court in Boston last week ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The law denies a host of federal benefits to same-sex couples who were married in states that allow such unions, including the filing of joint tax returns or receiving survivor benefits.
“Under Secretary Clinton, federal benefits were extended, but we still face some legal limits,” said Bromley. He and his gay husband, who works for the State Department, put their adopted 2-year-old daughter in the day care at the department. “It hurts us both economically and psychologically.”
The Supreme Court will consider the politically divisive issue for the first time in its next term, and Bromley believes the justices will not be able to ignore the increasing support for marriage equality over the last decade. According to Pew Research, supporters outpaced those opposed to gay marriage in 2011. Currently 47 percent of Americans do not oppose such unions, while 43 percent do.
“There is a sense that federal and state governments are moving in the same direction, and hopefully courts will do so as well,” Bromley said.