“Historically, American presidents have rarely gotten far ahead of public opinion on civil rights issues, and the few times they have, they’ve paid a substantial price for doing so,” writes Harvard Law School Professor Michael Klarman in an op-ed in the L.A. Times. Klarman’s op-ed, “The political risks of supporting gay rights” appeared in the September 19, 2010, edition. Klarman is the author of “From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality,” which won the 2005 Bancroft Prize.
It is difficult to ask historically disadvantaged minority groups to be patient in waiting for full recognition of their constitutional rights. Thurgood Marshall, the great NAACP organizer and litigator, was asked after Brown vs. Board of Education whether, in light of threatened violence and school closures in the South, he would have been “well advised to let things move along gradually for a while.” Marshall responded that he did indeed believe in gradualism, but “I also believe that 90-odd-years [the time elapsed since the Emancipation Proclamation] is pretty gradual.”
Gay rights supporters today are starting to feel the same way. They have loudly condemned the Obama administration for failing to act quickly enough in repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” for defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and for opposing same-sex marriage.