Tammy Baldwin became the nation’s first openly gay senator. President Barack Obama, the staunchest LGBT ally ever to sit in the Oval Office, won handily. But what made Tuesday the most significant night, unequivocally, in the political history of the LGBT community was the willingness of the people to vote yes on marriage equality. That had never happened.
Progress — it continued on Election Day 2012, and it’s still coming. It’s almost time to put away such childish toys as this absurd stat: 25 states currently allow cousins to marry; now, after Tuesday, 9 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples the same privilege.
Maine, Maryland and Washington made history as the first states to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians by popular vote, something that hadn’t happened in failed 30 ballot attempts. On the other side of the equation, Minnesota’s ballot measure that would amend the constitution to deny marriage equality failed, the first time for a state.
• SEE ALSO: Why Marriage Equality Is Passing
There are many reasons for the steady bending of the arc of history towards justice, like generational shifts, societal prevalence and increased political pressure by advocacy organizations. All of that matters a great deal. But what will ultimately matter most as the fight for rights continues in more states, and eventually at the federal level, is simple exposure and communication.
Ultimately, this isn’t about gay rights, or even gay people for that matter. It’s about exposing yourself to the unknown. The same could be said for our opinions about what it’s like for others to be poor, or black, or immigrants, or whatever group we currently don’t understand. This is about meeting people who enjoy different lives than yours, instead of relying on basic stereotypes and propaganda. When that happens, when life gets in the way of what we once knew to be true, when the fictional Modern Family shows us the reality of gay lives, when old habits die hard, this is what we see.
It’s getting better. Much better.