The couple was so happy to arrive in Albuquerque that they were singing. On the shuttle bus from the airport, they smiled and laughed and held hands. Then the driver made them sit in the back.
There was no doubt that the driver did so because a gay couple displayed mild affection in public. When confronted by the couple, the driver made no attempt to apologize or justify his actions. When another passenger said that the treatment of the couple was appalling, he directly pointed at the couple and called them "what's appalling."
The incident happened at the end of June. The company released an official apology on Tuesday, a few days after the story first ran in the local paper. The driver has so far said nothing.
There are a few takeaways from all of this. We now know that there are some people excited enough about Albuquerque to actually sing upon arrival. We can predict that the symbolism of the story will resonate with multiple meanings throughout a country currently struggling with a racial legacy whose fight for equality has drawn many comparisons with contemporary efforts to legalize gay marriage.
More importantly, though, the incident provides a revealing portrayal on the state of tolerance towards homosexuals in American society.
This summer has marked a watershed for civil rights in the United States. Amidst the historic Supreme Court decisions this summer, the continuing advance of same-sex marriage in states throughout the country, and the majority support for same-sex marriage nationwide, many observers have argued that the political battle for marriage equality is over.
Although the legal battle continues throughout individual states, marriage equality appears inevitable, the result of a societal acceptance of homosexuality that has rapidly expanded over the past decade.
While the progress of marriage equality in the past few years, and even the past few months, is a cause for celebration, it by no means signifies the end of discrimination against homosexuality. While the political battle is over, the cultural battle wages on just as intensely throughout the country.
The recent events in Albuquerque, from the driver's obvious prejudice to the company's boilerplate apology only released in the wake of public pressure, represent the manifestation of those culture wars.
American society as a whole will condemn such blatant discrimination, and companies will respond accordingly if only for their own personal economic interests, but isolated individuals who will never accept homosexuality will continue to make their discomfort evident. Some would say this is evident in the statements of many GOP political candidates.
The reality is that nothing will change the minds of these particular individuals, particularly as marriage equality continues to advance. The good news is that the swift condemnation, which the driver and company received as soon as the story broke, has become the dominant viewpoint of American society as a whole. And it will only grow. Local, state, and federal governments have an obligation to prosecute alleged acts of illegal discrimination, but those who engage in more casual forms of discrimination, technically legal though still immoral, will move towards the margins of society until their presence is negligible. That is progress.
The comparison to Rosa Parks, for better or worse, may seem inevitable. Yet, the comparison is misguided, if only because they occurred at different points in the political development of their respective civil rights movements.
Rosa Parks' act of resistance, though not the first to openly resist racial segregation, became one of the primary symbols through which the civil rights movement mobilized. Her actions became a catalyst for political action. It is partly because of her that the civil rights movement gained momentum in the late fifties and early sixties.
The recent events in Albuquerque, though unfortunate, represent a different situation entirely. The intolerance of the driver has already been defeated politically, though not culturally. More so than a catalyst, these events mark the gradual end of discrimination rather than the beginnings of equality. They represent the slow death of an outdated worldview struggles to remain relevant, defeated by the social progress of human society and the political mobilization of tolerance.