Today is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the 1972 U.S. law that has—among other things—guaranteed equal opportunity for women in high school and college sports. It was, and in some ways remains, an intensely controversial piece of legislation. Many men whose sports were made or have remained club rather than varsity sports (for example, a school might have a varsity women’s lacrosse team but only a club lacrosse team for men, since there’s no women’s football) are still not thrilled with the law.
From decades’ distance, though, it’s clear that Title IX has been the foundation of a completely transformed sporting landscape—a landscape where women’s sports at every level have a visibility and prevalence that’s almost unimaginable without Title IX. While the battle for gender parity in athletics is far from over, it’s now routine for girls to play hockey or dream of careers as pro basketball players. Title IX has helped to make the lives of girls and women happier and healthier—to the benefit of all. It’s hard to imagine anyone, especially anyone who grew up in the Title IX era, wanting to turn back the clock.
Politics in America’s two-party system split generally into conservative (Republican) and liberal (Democratic) camps. One of the terms commonly used to describe liberal political views is “progressive.” Though that term has had various shades of meaning over the decades, it’s always been associated with a view towards the future as opposed to a fixation on the past.
That difference in outlook, broadly, characterizes the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. Republicans look to the past: to a time when abortion was illegal, when America used its military might to exert dominance over the rest of the world, and when it was the church rather than the government that took care of people in their old age (as long as people didn’t do anything ungodly like, say, getting pregnant out of wedlock). Democrats look to the future: when health care is guaranteed to all, with the costs fairly shared; when America is respected rather than feared; and when our shared humanity means more than our gender, our race, our income, or our nationality. That’s what progressive means.
Historically, ideas that once seemed controversial but were championed by progressives have come to seem like no-brainers. From emancipation to suffrage to Social Security and Medicare to Title IX, history validates the wisdom of progressives again and again and again. Yet there are always reactionaries who kick back, who say these new ideas are dangerous and scary and will be the downfall of society.
Right now, those reactionaries are kicking back against gay marriage. States are rushing to pass constitutional amendments banning (almost always redundantly) gay marriage. These amendments will eventually be overturned…do even their supporters really believe they won’t be? The tide of popular opinion is moving quickly in favor of marriage equality, and once it inevitably washes over the 50% mark, we’ll have to go through this all over again. In the meantime, there will be all the more years when same-sex couples have to endure the indignity and injustice of being denied a basic human right.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It was a Republican president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and it was a Republican president—Richard Nixon—who signed Title IX into law. When he spoke about the law, though, Nixon didn’t say much about women’s equality in sports; the law’s far-reaching implications in that respect weren’t yet fully understood by anyone. Instead, Nixon emphasized the law’s positive effect on racial desegregation via busing.
Today, most Republicans want to make affirmative action illegal; they favor voter ID laws that are squarely in line with racist, classist voter suppression efforts from Reconstruction to the present; and they want to ensure that gay marriage will never be legal.
If we legalized gay marriage today, what would people think in 40 years? If you think they’d condemn our moral corruption—rather than praising our forward-thinking good sense—not only do you have a disturbingly dark view of human nature, you haven’t been reading your history books.