OP-ED: Pete Buttigieg’s run was proof that America can and does evolve toward goodness
If you want a reminder that America can and does move toward the right, just thing, look no further than Sunday.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg ended his run for president, but not before making history by winning Iowa — the first openly gay candidate to do so.
Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s first openly gay mayor, tweeted her support Sunday evening.
“I am deeply proud of the campaign that @PeteButtigieg ran,” Lightfoot wrote. “Today, Mayor Pete closed one door, but as the first openly gay candidate to win presidential delegates he opened countless others for LGBTQ+ candidates across the nation.
“We eagerly await your next move, @PeteButtigieg — maybe after a few weeks of rest,” she continued. “The urgency of the moment means that we will not stop needing your public service anytime soon.”
In his speech announcing the end of his run, Buttigieg had this to say: “We sent a message to every kid out there wondering if whatever marks them out as different means they are somehow destined to be less than: Someone who once felt that exact same way can become a leading American presidential candidate — with his husband at his side.”
This all was practically unimaginable not so long ago.
As recently as 2004, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama still opposed same-sex marriage.
“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” Obama told WTTW at the time. “But what I also believe is that we have an obligation to make sure that gays and lesbians have the rights of citizenship that afford them visitations to hospitals, that allow them to transfer property to each other, to make sure they’re not discriminated against on the job.
“I don’t think marriage is a civil right,” he added.
By 2010, Obama talked about his views beginning to shift. “Attitudes evolve, including mine,” he said during an interview with America Blog. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.”
Obama went on to champion LGBTQ rights during his time in the White House. He repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, instructed the Justice Department not to enforce the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (which was signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton) and celebrated the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized gay marriage by lighting the White House in rainbow colors.
People change. Countries change.
But not without the courage of people living their truth out loud — embracing their spouses on stages (political and otherwise), even when those spouses happen to be the same sex, refusing to accept separate but equal (which is never really equal), advocating for inclusion and justice for all.
Buttigieg did that.
And though he’s no longer on a path to the White House (yet), his presence and his reception are reminders that America is not stuck in place. America’s heart can expand and embrace what it once feared and rejected.
Buttigieg listed his campaign’s “rules of the road” during Sunday’s speech.
“Respect, belonging, truth, teamwork, boldness, responsibility, substance, discipline, excellence and joy,” he said. “Every decision we made was guided by those values.”
He talked about politics as a force for good.
“Leaders can call out either what is best in us or what is worst in us, can draw us either to our better or to our worse selves,” he said. “Politics at its worst is ugly. But at its best, politics can lift us up. It is not just policymaking, it is moral. It is soul craft.”
He continued: “I firmly believe that in these years, in our time, we can and will make American life in politics more like what it could be,” he said. “Not just more wise and more prosperous, but more equitable and more just and more decent.”
I believe his candidacy did just that. And I believe America will take what he started and learn from it, build on it and, ultimately, grow toward our better selves because of it. We’ve already started to.
— Heidi Stevens is a lifestyle columnist for the Chicago Tribune.