On no issue is history moving faster than on "gay rights"--an already antiquated term for full and equal participation and acceptance of gay men and women in American life. The work is not finished, of course, but what took black Americans more than a century, gays have accomplished in two or three decades (thanks in no small part to blacks, who designed the template for this kind of social revolution). We still argue about it, but the whole spectrum of debate has moved left. A right-wing thug like Tom DeLay or Newt Gingrich probably has more advanced views about homosexuals than dainty liberals of the past century like Adlai Stevenson or Hubert Humphrey. And whatever the actual views, public expressions of overt homophobia are now unacceptable from any national politician.
The debate of 14 years ago about gays in the military seems almost quaint. Kids grow up today with gay friends, gay parents, gay parents of friends and gay friends of parents. If only blacks and whites were as thoroughly mixed together in society as gays and straights are. Kids are also exposed constantly to an entertainment culture in which gays are not merely accepted but in some ways dominant. You rarely see a reality show without a gay cast member, while Rosie O'Donnell is a coveted free agent and Ellen DeGeneres is America's sweetheart. The notion that gays must be segregated out of the military for the sake of our national security must strike Americans younger than, say, 40 as simply weird, just as we of the previous generation find the rules of racial segregation weird. (O.K., run that by me again: they needed separate drinking fountains because ... why?)
Fourteen years ago it was difficult to find Democrats who openly supported "don't ask, don't tell" and Republicans roundly criticized it. At the recent Presidential debates it was the Republican candidates who were defending it and all the Dems said it should be ended. The debate has moved that far that fast. In 20 years gays in the military and gays being married won't even be an issue.