Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Same People

A friend recently forwarded me the following commentary by Anna Quindlen. Entitled, “The Same People,” and first published in the May 31 issue of Newsweek, this commentary is for many an encouraging sign of hope. It also confirms for me what I’ve long sensed: that for the younger generations, the “gay issue” is actually a non-issue.

Writes Quindlen: “The polls predict the future. The younger you are, the more likely you are to know someone who is gay. The more likely you are to know someone who is gay, the more likely you are to support gay marriage. The opposition is aging out. Someday soon the fracas surrounding all this will seem like a historical artifact, like the notion that women were once prohibited from voting and a black individual from marrying a white one.”

Accompanying Quindlen’s commentary are recent images from California – where dozens of gay couples are now being married after the historic May 15th decision by the California Supreme Court to overturn a 2000 ballot initiative banning same sex marriages.


The Same People
By Anna Quindlen
May 31, 2008

Scream, shout, jump up and down. No matter.
The gay-marriage issue is over and done with.
The upshot: love won.

During his sophomore year in high school, one of our sons mentioned at the dinner table that a classmate had come out of the closet. I can’t even remember which of the two boys it was, and that’s not only because my memory is now so bad that I can reread mystery novels and not recall whodunit. It’s because the announcement was such a big nothing among the kids that it was only slightly more noteworthy than “pass the mac and cheese.” Unlike my own high-school friends, these kids took gay for granted.

One of the most transformative social movements over our lifetime has been the battle for gay rights, and the key to its great success has been the grass-roots phenomenon of exploding stereotypes by simply saying, “Yes, I am.” Each time the woman at the next desk or the guy down the street lets it be known that he or she is gay, it takes another brick out of the wall of division. Or, as Ellen DeGeneres told John McCain on her show recently, “We are all the same people, all of us.”

That’s what the California Supreme Court said when it ruled that gay couples should have the right to marry as a matter of basic equality. Before you could say “Jonathan and Andrew request the honour of your presence,” opponents were suggesting that civilization would crash and burn if two guys could register at Pottery Barn and raise kids in a ranch house. All those wailing that gay marriage is an invention of amoral modernism might want to consider these lines from a Roman poem of the second century A.D.:

“The bearded Callistratus married the rugged Afer/Under the same law by which a woman takes a husband./Torches were carried before him, a bridal veil covered his face.” And afterward everyone sat down to salmon, rice pilaf and chocolate mousse. Well, actually, I made up that last part just as surely as some people are making up the dire consequences of same-sex troth-plighting.

In the wake of the court’s decision, those folks vowed to find a way to protect the sanctity of hetero marriage, that time-honored staple of sitcom mockery and savage custody fights. Polls showing opposition to gay marriage were proffered to prove that the court had overstepped its bounds, ignoring the fact that the most sacred business of judges is not to ratify the will of the majority but to protect the minority from its tyranny.

It is true that the California Supreme Court is something of a Scandinavia of jurisprudence, willing to get out front on social issues. But it’s not really courts and legislatures that will settle this issue. It’s the neighbors, friends and family members who have come out and made the political personal—and lovable. Jennifer? Smart, funny Jennifer? Of course she should be able to marry Anne. They’re perfect together.

If only coming out could be used in other areas that remain unsettled and contentious. The stereotype of the feckless woman who has an abortion and then a pedicure is a sub rosa staple of the opposition, and there’s no question that it could be counteracted by real people talking about making a difficult but necessary choice. But since abortion has always been couched, quite properly, as an issue of personal privacy, that feels discordant. Immigrants face bigotry that grows directly out of the swamp of ignorance, but the impulse—and the pressure—to fit in means that they don’t often testify to where they come from and what their lives are really like.

Gay men and lesbians have prospered because they’ve refused to acquiesce to the notion that they should hide their lives from public view. Two by two the’ve adopted children, bought homes, volunteered in their communities and slogged through life together just the way hetero couples do, except without preferential tax codes, inheritance rights and the automatic assumption that they can make decisions for one another in emergency situations. Too often, without legal protection, they have found themselves dependent on the kindness of those who were not kind, like the man in Indiana who became severely disabled and whose parents prohibited his partner of 25 years from visiting him in their home.

Here’s what I don’t understand: is there so much love and commitment in the world that we can afford, as a society, to be contemptuous of some portion of it? If two women in white want to join hands in front of their families and friends and vow to love and honor one another until they die, the only reasonable response to that is happy tears, awed admiration and societal approval. And—this part is just personal opinion—one of those big honking KitchenAid mixers with the dough hook.

Before we know it that will be the response everywhere, not just in Denmark and the Netherlands and Canada and California: approval, appliances. The polls predict the future. The younger you are, the more likely you are to know someone who is gay. The more likely you are to know someone who is gay, the more likely you are to support gay marriage. The opposition is aging out.

Someday soon the fracas surrounding all this will seem like a historical artifact, like the notion that women were once prohibited from voting and a black individual from marrying a white one. Our children will attend the marriages of their friends, will chatter about whether they will last, will whisper to one another, “Love him, don’t like him so much.” The California Supreme Court called gay marriage a “basic civil right.” In hindsight, it will merely be called ordinary life.

Anna Quindlen

Opening Image: Robin Tyler, left, and Diane Olson lean on each other during their same-sex Jewish wedding ceremony on the steps of Beverly Hills Courthouse, Monday June 16, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Dozens of gay couples were married Monday after a historic ruling making California the second state to allow same-sex nuptials went into effect. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Image 2:Bride and groom figurines are on display on wedding cakes at Cake and Art bakery in West Hollywood, California June 4, 2008. A California Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday clears the way for gay marriage ceremonies that could bring a business windfall to San Francisco and other cities starting this month. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

Image 3: Jeff Barr, left, places a wedding ring on the finger of Wes Wilkinson during their wedding ceremony at the Yolo County Clerk/Recorder’s office in Woodland, Calif. on Monday, June 16, 2008. The couple were among the first gay couples to wed in Yolo County after a May 15th decision by the California Supreme Court to overturn a 2000 ballot initiative banning same sex marriages. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Image 4: Shelly Bailes, left, and Ellen Pontac, right, hold each other’s hands as Yolo County Clerk/Recorder Freddie Oakley performs their wedding ceremony at her office in Woodland, Calif., Monday, June 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Image 5: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, center, kisses Del Martin, left, as Martin’s partner Phyllis Lyon, right, looks on in a special ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco, Monday, June 16, 2008. Lyon and Martin became the first officially married same sex couple after California’s Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool)

Image 6: Crowds cheers outside of City Hall after the first same-sex couple was legally married by Mayor Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, Monday, June 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Image 7: Same-sex couple Ariel Owens (right) and his spouse Joseph Barham walk arm in arm after they were married at San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday, June 17, 2008. (AFP/Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

Below: Supporters of marriage equality stand on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on the first full day of legal same-sex marriage in San Francisco, California - June 17, 2008. (Reuters/Erin Siegal)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What Straights Can Learn from Gay Marriage
Good News from the Golden State
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
The Real Gay Agenda
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
Love is Love
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
Separate is Not Equal
Mainstream Voice of “Dear Abby” Supports Gay Marriage
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
Grandma Knows Best
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Just Love
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Good News from Minnesota

Recommended Off-site Links:
History is Made as Same-Sex Couples Marry - Wyatt Buchanan, et al (San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 2008).
Hundreds of Same-Sex Couples Wed Across California - Lisa Leff (Associated Press, June 17, 2008).
Same-Sex Weddings Are Just So Yesterday’s News - Mary McNamara (Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2008).
Same-Sex Marriage: The Atmosphere Changes - Wayne Dynes (Dyneslines, August 31, 2006).


Anonymous said...

I have always posited exactly what Quindlen posits: I don't think God cares a hang about whom you love. There isn't near enough love and committment in the world that we can chase off the excess "love".

The crisis facing hetero marriage is NOT allowing more people who love one another to become committed. Oh no...the elephant in the living room of hetero marriage is....DIVORCE. Or lack of desire for many hets to even get married in the first place, cuz it will just end in DIVORCE. (And this is even posited by some as a reason not to allow non-hets to marry, cuz, um, then there will just be more DIVORCE!)

Whom you hate...now that's a different story altogether I think, in terms of God's cares, and even our own.

kevin57 said...

Yes, being gay and being in relationship as a gay person is becoming much less of an issue. A poll of young evangelicals has their pastors worried. They accuse their own churches of being prejudicial and targeting of homosexuals. This is, again, largely the result of gays being known as persons, not as "issues" or "aliens."

I think it is marvelous that the first couple wedded in CA was a lesbian couple partnered for over fifty years. A bishop once told me that while he essentially upholds the Church's teaching on homosexual sexual prohibitions, who is he to tell a faithful, committed gay couple of twenty years that the only way to save their souls is to separate from each other? "How arrogant that would be!" he told me. That's the pastoral question I always put to those opposed to gay relationships. What would you say to such a partnered couple? It is all very nice and cozy here online and in conferences to quote papal documents and scholastic theologians, but what would you say to real people in real situations who are really in love with each other?

All that said, it is now up to gay couples in CA to live up to the victory that has been won. It may be an unequal standard, but if these marriages are seen to be quickly dissolving, the people of CA and in States to follow will reject gay marriage.

crystal said...

Makes me proud to be a Californian :)

Tc said...

Forget "Oklahoma!"

I say, "California!"

Frank Partisan said...

I think Bush/Rove, created the atmosphere to lose not only on that issue, but to kill Reaganism.

Once the genie was let out of the bottle, the right couldn't put it back in.

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