It wasn’t just Jared Polis who made history as the first openly gay man to be sworn in as governor of any state.
Most of that history was made by Colorado voters. And by Colorado politicians, for whom I’ll take a moment to actually say something nice. It’s almost as if democracy can still work in America.
During the long campaign, the fact of Polis’s sexual orientation was rarely mentioned. There were no ugly anonymous attack ads or mailers. There were no snarky digs that I heard. The fact that Polis is gay was basically a non-factor in the race, which Polis won handily over Walker Stapleton.
I don’t mean that anti-LGBTQ bigotry is a thing of the past — any more than racism or anti-Semitism or ethnic hatred or xenophobia belong to the past. And, in case you missed it, the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker/artist is back in the courts and back in the news, this time for refusing to bake a cake for a transgender woman celebrating the anniversary of her transition.
But if some people didn’t vote for Polis because he’s gay, it couldn’t have been many. And if anyone is still talking about “special rights” for gays in Colorado, it’s clear you can’t say that today without it sounding like a slur.
The truth of the moment is as clear as Polis taking the inaugural stage alongside his partner, Marlon Reis, who is now Colorado’s first first gentleman, and their two kids. I don’t know which is more significant — that a gay man was elected governor or that it wasn’t an issue that the man (always a man, by the way, in Colorado) elected governor happened to be gay.
We know the history. We know the anti-gay, hate-state Amendment 2 from 1992. We know the anti-gay-marriage amendment that restricted marriage to one man and one woman in 2006. We know the lengths that then-Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, spurred by the religious right, went in order to block legislation that would have legalized civil unions. Not gay marriage, remember, which then seemed like a distant dream, but civil unions. That was in 2012, a blink in time.
Think of all that has happened during that blink.
In his brief address, Polis acknowledged how far we have come by making the point without making it too directly. Because, at this point, acknowledgement is enough to say that Colorado did more than talk the talk, it voted the vote. The only shocking part is how unshocking it all is.
“I must begin by saying I’m very conscious of the fact that there were many brave people over the years who made it possible for someone like me to be standing here giving a speech like this,” Polis said as he began speaking., just after taking a selfie of himself with the crowd in the background — another Colorado inauguration first, I’d guess.
“I am grateful and forever indebted to those who came before me – who struggled for equal rights, who stepped up for public service in all forms, who made difficult sacrifices and worked faithfully toward a brighter future for our state, our nation and our world,” Polis said.
It was a day of firsts, of course. Polis is now also the first Jewish governor of Colorado. Not so many years ago, Polis’s religion would have been an issue as well.
Instead, it was the diversity inaugural. There’s nothing unusual about that, of course. It’s entirely unremarkable that the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus was part of the entertainment. Nor was it remarkable that poets on stage would speak of overcoming injustice. Or to see four former governors striking a non-partisan pose with Polis for the cameras. Or, for that matter, to hear likely-presidential-candidate John Hickenlooper, in his farewell speech, joking that he was going back to being a “private citizen of Colorado.”
I have no idea what kind of governor Polis will be, other than the first to wear blue sneakers to work. Polis didn’t talk much about policy Tuesday, just a few basics. He didn’t offer any grand designs or even not-so-grand ones. Presumably, he saved that for the state of the state address before the legislature on Thursday. What he talked about mostly was how great Colorado is, which is what Colorado governors generally do.
It was all perfectly normal. Which is exactly what everyone could have expected.