It's 2003. David Beckham is on magazine covers in nail polish. Bravo is grabbing TV ratings with a show in which stereotypically Fabulous gay urbanites make over a hopeless, hapless hetero. And at last a vocal fight for same-sex marriage is gaining steam, largely because the status quo makes no sense. It's okay for me to go on a 4-day meth binge, hitchhike to Vegas and get married by Elvis to a 67-year-old "dancer" named Dakota while having a phoenix tattooed on my left butt cheek, but if 2 women want to own a house together and adopt a Turkmenistani orphan with cystic fibrosis it's a death blow to the ancient, sacred institution of marriage? Nevah! Mount the barricades for a new Brown v. Board of Education!
Sadly, this enthusiasm is premature. My generation, raised with an un-closeted Ellen and Grace-advising Will, may be comfortable enough with gender-neutral marriage legislation, but support drops precipitously as ages increase.
More worryingly, it drops precipitously with each increase in media exposure. Last month's sodomy-legalizing supreme court ruling sent Gallop-measured support for legal gay sex -- let alone marriage -- tumbling from 60% to 48%, its lowest level since the mid-'90s dark ages. Instead of winning new converts, a concerted PR push for universal marriage rights may send squeamish baby boomers into the arms of the 700 club.
Even if the backlash has, so to speak, no lash, a fore-lash is far from assured. The law's letter aside, most Americans see marriage as a religious act, not a legal act, and most Americans are devout, at least by 1st-world standards: only a tenth identify as nonreligious, for example (compare with more than 50% in most of Western Europe). The word "marriage" itself carries deep religious connotations; people who haven't set foot in a church since the Carter administration won't hesitate to have a wedding there.
The obvious answer, of course, is to change the word. Call gay marriage "civil union" and support is already well above 50% in the blue states on the map -- no years of painstaking persuasion required.
"Civil union" is unsatisfying, though, in a "separate but equal" kind of way. What about equality? What about liberty? What about the principle of the thing?It is, after all, the American Way to fight for Truth and Justice, and fighting feels good, righteous anger feels good, principle feels good.
This is about more than principle, though. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of couples losing custody of their kids, hundreds of thousands unable to craft airtight wills, to gain hospital visitation rights. Right now, there are tens of millions of children in orphanages, un-adopted. None of this can wait 2 decades for America to sort out its insecurities.
Plenty of comparisons have been drawn to the civil rights struggle 40 years ago and we would do well to remember what worked and what did not. By Any Means Necessary felt good, but the necessary means were pacifism, not militancy; it was not Malcolm X who succeeded but Martin Luther King.
For my school paper. I was kind of pissed off that they made the headline "Gay marriage civil rights issue, equality should be enforced"; nobody'll read it with that title. Half the point of writing it on this topic was for it to be called something wildly provocative, like "Now is not the time for gay marriage". Same principle as It's not about choice.