NEW YORK — By coming out as gay while still an active NBA player, Jason Collins breaks one of the last remaining barriers for gays and lesbians in era of constant political gains and ever-growing public acceptance.
In most other realms of public life — including the military, Congress, the corporate boardroom — gays have been taking their place as equals. Until yesterday, however, no male athlete had come out as gay while still an active player on any team in the four major North American pro sports leagues.
“Today’s announcement again shows that gay Americans are our teachers, police officers, nurses, lawyers and even our professional athletes,” said the president of the largest national gay-rights group, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign.
“We contribute to every aspect of our American community and deserve the same equal rights as every American,” he said.
Beyond sports, the most dramatic barometer of shifting attitudes has been public opinion on same-sex marriage. The latest Gallup Poll on that issue pegged national support at 53 percent, up nearly twofold from 27 percent in 1996.
That change has been reflected in the political arena.
With a key vote in the state Senate last week, Rhode Island put itself on track to become the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Bills proposing to take the same step are pending in Minnesota, Delaware and Illinois.
Gay-rights supporters hope the trend will be reflected in rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, expected in June, on whether the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages and on whether a ban on such marriages in California should be struck down.
Pollsters say there are two main reasons why many Americans who formerly opposed gay marriage are now supporting it. Many say it’s because they know someone who is gay — a family member, friend or acquaintance — while others say their views evolved as they thought more about the issue.