This is the best take on Falwell’s legacy I’ve seen yet. In his way, he helped create the conditions for our community to make the advances toward equality that are accelerating so rapidly today.
The vicious things Falwell said about GLBT people in the 1980s – and even as recently as ten years ago – now sound outlandishly crude and ignorant. The only people who still repeat such things** are seen as fringe extremists and liabilities. The reason is that those vicious attacks started a conversation.
By speaking about gay people as outsiders, and even as disease-bearing strangers, he forced many Christians to look honestly at their congregations and reexamine the premise of their faith. By casting gays as threats to the survival of families, he forced parents, siblings and relatives of all kinds to reassess what values bind them together and how they care for one another. By approaching the law, especially in privacy and civil rights, as a battleground for competing visions of righteousness, he goaded a generation of scholars and activists to talk not simply in terms of precedents and entitlements but ever more persuasively in terms of conscience, morality and fairness.
That conversation continues. During last year’s campaign to pass the Virginia so-called “marriage amendment,” proponents may have relied on a base confused by Falwell’s specious claims about our community – but did so while insisting they are not “anti-gay,” a term they now consistently refer to as a “slur.”
But even America’s sweethearts can fall out of public favor really quickly, especially if they dare to speak out their Christian beliefs””and especially if they are willing to speak out with an unpopular opinion about same-sex “marriage.” [emphasis mine]
Suddenly, opposition to marriage equality is an “unpopular opinion.” That did not happen spontaneously, it happened because of the necessity and opportunity for open, honest conversations about the nature of sexual orientation, about our lives and families, and about what marriage is, that was created by these amendment campaigns. We said all along that, regardless of the outcome of the Virginia amendment, the campaign itself was creating the conditions for positive change. That’s what has happened and will continue to happen at a rapidly accelerating pace, and I suppose we have Jerry Falwell to thank for it.