Main content | Sidebar | Links

Monday, March 15, 2004

Up next: 'Who Wants to Unmarry the Neighbors?'

E.J. Graff, author of What Is Marriage For?, writes a great (not to mention funny!) op-ed about San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom's surprise move authorizing same-sex marriages. Newsom's stunt, which made many long-time gay-rights activists cringe, may have decisively turned the tide in favor of same-sex marriage. First she offers a bit of history:

A social movement makes its plans, hold its rallies, introduces legislative proposals, brings its meticulously planned court cases, issues press releases and argues its position in endless briefs and talk shows, books and articles. Then an outsider steps in and — for his own reasons — changes the script, and by doing so turns up the debate's volume dramatically. For lesbians and gay men, this scenario is reminiscent of the breathtaking year that ran between June 1992 and June 1993, when Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton started openly courting our votes and donations, declaring ours a just cause — and in doing so pushed us into the mainstream media spotlight.

Clinton, of course, made some missteps: Any experienced gay activist could have told him that military service was too volatile an issue to start with. But even though the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy ultimately implemented wasn't an improvement — it resulted in more discharges (especially of lesbians) than the policy of uneasy coexistence that preceded it — Clinton's push dramatically improved the political climate for lesbians and gay men.

In retrospect, June 1992 to June 1993 was an annus mirabilis, the first political Year of the Homosexual. Never before had lesbian and gay rights been treated as public-policy issues deserving serious political consideration. Now — consolidated in everything from the sweep of workplace domestic partnership policies to pop culture phenoms like "Will & Grace" and "Queer Eye" — that attitude is impossible to roll back.

She says that Newsom has humanized and personalized what used to be an "issue":

Before Newsom's Winter of Love, the same-sex marriage debate was about abstractions. On the one hand, same-sex couples and their lawyers were begging to be let into the institution; on the other, anti-gay forces were insisting that doing so would end civilization. Natural human caution put the burden of proof on the potential newcomers.

But now every American with a television has seen hundreds of boringly ordinary couples — often with strollers, flowers, parents, siblings and old friends in tow — waiting giddily in the rain for their public moment of joy and civil recognition. Who knew, besides a few lesbian and gay activists, that thousands of such people had been waiting 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years to pay $82 for a license to take care of each other for the rest of their lives?

Opponents now have to play their part on a very different political reality show: Who Wants to Unmarry the Neighbors? As a result, the burden of proof has shifted to them. Most of the political humor I've seen, from editorial cartoons to Comedy Central jokes, has poked fun at same-sex marriage's opponents (my personal favorite is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution cartoon in which a cave full of Al Qaeda operatives declare that they know how to destroy America: Sneak in and marry each other!). I've seen very few sneers about men in wedding dresses, the denigrating joke that would have been de rigueur just 10 years ago.

There's more, of course. Check out "An Outsider Steps In and Changes the Script," E.J. Graff, Los Angeles Times 3.14.04, reg req'd. (Thanks, Matthew Yglesias!)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 15 March 2004 at 5:12 PM

Previous: Civic paganism!
Next: Please come to our church!



Comments for this entry are currently closed.