Since the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which nationally legalized gay marriage, various media outlets have been comparing the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement. Here's my analysis.
Until recently, the progress on gay rights has been slow and steady, but it allowed everybody to observe and to make judgments based upon those observations. This was a good thing, for it gave people the chance to see the world not through religion, not through tradition, but through their own eyes. Notice that this is a very different thing from a "national dialog", for the acts of observing and judging are necessarily solitary acts.
The effects were palpable: 30 years ago it was common for gay children to be kicked out of their homes after having an arm broken; 20 years ago the evictions were still happening but the broken arms were less common, "he’s a good kid, but he’s queer", parents would say; ten years ago, parents reactions were essentially: "he’s gay, but he’s a good kid"; now, parents stop at "he’s a good kid". The exact same story was replayed in the workplace, in social organizations, and (to a lesser extent) in the military.
Progress was slow, but the changes that constituted this progress were deeper and more permanent than with any other social movement in the United States, due to the fact that people had the time, and the evidence, to decide on their own.
When people come to a conclusion that is contrary to popular opinion, there’s a calm resolution to them, for they are experiencing a short burst of pride. They have just captured an intellectual territory, and they will hold that territory.
The net result is that non-gays began treating gays as individuals, as family members, as coworkers, as friends. Being gay was rapidly becoming a non-issue, not for the sake of "tolerance" or "diversity", but because hating a person for being gay implied hating a family member, a coworker, a friend.
No small consequence of this bottom-up approach is that the changes were not very traumatic for this nation, compared to the civil rights movement. As long as gay rights are won in this manner, you could safely predict that there would never be a Civil War over gay rights, nor any large and violent protests.
This allowed gays to partially participate in professional and civil society, and gays and lesbians have made serious contributions in every profession. As an example, email was invented by Eric Allman, who once said:
"There is some sort of perverse pleasure in knowing that it's basically impossible to send a piece of hate mail through the Internet without its being touched by a gay program. That's kind of funny."
Most people don't know who Eric Allman is, or that he is gay, nor do they care. What people do care about is that email works - and that's all that matters.
America has, for the most part, recognized these contributions: for example, every 4th of July, we hear Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. We hear that piece of music not because it was written by a gay composer, but it is a great piece of music which matches the spirit of the occasion. That's the way it should be.
These contributions were positive to American culture - they made America a better country not by lowering standards in the quest for "equality", but by opening new possibilities, new ways of communicating, new intellectual territories.
Gays and lesbians indeed saw themselves as adding to American society and culture, not replacing it. In this era of "hyphenated Americans", you rarely hear the label "gay-American", and we consider that label offensive. There is no other minority in this country that see things this way.
Compare this with the civil rights movement, where all "progress" was made in a top-down manner. This movement, the surrounding culture, and the way it accomplished its goals, have created a group of individuals about which every individual achievement is questioned and doubted; it elevates the lowest criminal to the status of hero or martyr; it encourages not just bad parenting but a lack of parents; it creates dependency, an enormous sense of entitlement, and a corresponding "grievance industry"; it has produced an artificial middle class; it has done nothing but Balkanize our country.
These "achievements" are so pervasive that it is reasonable to doubt that they are nothing but unintended consequences. Unintended or not, the result hasn't been a raising of our standards, but a razing of our culture.
The salt in the wound is the horrible irony that the civil right's greatest orator (and indeed one of the 20th century's greatest orators) admonished that people "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" - and that the characters of some blacks are appropriately judged to be lacking.
Now along comes the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Instead of people coming to their own conclusions about gays and lesbians, conclusions are being forced upon them in a top-down manner. The out-and-out homophobes clearly lost, but so did everyone who "captured their own territory".
So, for whom was this a victory?
For gays and lesbians who wish to marry, it is a Pyrrhic victory, for the reasons outlined above.
For everybody else, it is a loss. One of the many things that contemporary Liberals do not understand is that it is at least as important how people come to decisions as what decisions are actually made. Being dictated to - having decisions made for you - never, ever, works. That's exactly what Obergefell v. Hodges accomplished.
We should consider ourselves lucky that gay rights got as far as they did in a bottom-up manner. My only fear is that the gay rights movement will go the route of the civil rights movement.