I should start with the happy part: had dinner this evening with some friends, and I had forgotten that the sister of one of them has been in a long-term same-sex relationship for some years now. Turns out that G & J got married in San Francisco on Saturday, and G's parents, who haven't always been as supportive about her orientation as she would like, showed up of their own accord to participate in and witness the wedding.
Which is still bringing tears to my eyes just writing that. Extremely cool.
The less happy-making thing this evening on this topic was reading the article "The Battle Over Gay Marriage" in the latest Time, written before things started happening in San Francisco. It's a good article, but the sidebars are sobering (scroll down on that page to see sidebars). (Note: you may not be able to read the article or the sidebars much longer for free; I gather that you have to pay to read older archived material on the site. So if you're interested, go read it now.)
(Oh, but before I get to the sidebar stuff, I have to mention the part about Matt Daniels, a major opponent of same-sex marriage. The article strongly implies that Daniels's opposition to same-sex marriage stems largely from a combination of his work "in homeless shelters, where he says he saw the consequences of family breakdown" and his own history, being raised by a single (and apparently straight) mother. Nowhere does the article explain why Daniels thinks gay marriage will lead to more broken homes and single-parent families. It's like there are these two totally unrelated issues that someone somewhere decided were the same issue: a gay family is by definition a broken family. I find this utterly infuriating. And not even internally consistent, since Daniels appears to be in favor of allowing states to provide civil unions if they like. But I should note that journalism often gets things wrong, and Daniels may well have a more thoroughly worked-out and consistent view of this than I'm giving him credit for.)
The first sidebar presents a fascinating history of same-sex marriage. (I know the phrase rolls off the tongue less easily than "gay marriage"—but aside from the question of whether "gay" is inclusive of women, there's also the fact that bisexuals can be in same-sex relationships. And hell, if straight people want to engage in same-sex marriage, I won't stop 'em. Gay and lesbian and bisexual people have certainly been in plenty of opposite-sex marriages.) A few items of note:
- 1971: Jack Baker and his partner, James McConnell, both 28, unsuccessfully sue for a marriage license in Minnesota. A judge lets them acquire a legal relationship by allowing McConnell to adopt Baker.
- 1989: Denmark becomes the first country to recognize same-sex unions, allowing couples to register as partners.
- 1994: IKEA airs a groundbreaking television commercial in the U.S. that features a gay male couple shopping together for furniture.
- 1996: President Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, denying federal recognition of same-sex marriage. [I always forget that this happened under Clinton. I think I even wrote him a letter at the time, probably my first letter to a President, and got back a form letter saying that he opposed gay marriage.]
- 2000: The Netherlands is the first country to allow same-sex couples the right to marry, providing the benefits that come with a civil marriage. The first couples marry in April 2001.
- 2003: Belgium joins the Netherlands in recognizing marriage between same-sex couples.
I had known that the Netherlands allowed same-sex marriages, but I had no idea that had happened so recently. And anyone know why it took so long between legalization and the first marriages?
Anyway, so here's the part I found really sobering: a Time/CNN poll on the subject.
—Do you think marriages between homosexual men or between homosexual women should be recognized as legal?
—Do you favor or oppose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that legally defines marriage as a union between a man and woman only and prevents states from legally recognizing marriages between homosexual men or between homosexual women?
—Do you personally think a homosexual relationship between consenting adults is morally wrong, or not a moral issue?
YES MORALLY WRONG—51%
NOT A MORAL ISSUE—45%
—If a candidate for political office were to come out in favor of legalizing gay marriages, would you be more likely to vote for that candidate?
So the good news there is that almost half of the respondents say they wouldn't be less likely to vote for a candidate who was in favor of gay marriage. The bad news is that over half of the respondents say that homosexual relationships are morally wrong. And that nearly half of them are in favor of a constitutional amendment on the subject.
The real point being, I knew there was a very deep divide on this subject, but the coverage I've seen lately had lulled me into thinking that the mainstream view was something like Kerry's (up to each state, civil unions okay, marriages not okay), but really it appears that people (at least respondents to that poll) are evenly split between pro-and-neutral, on the one hand, and strongly opposed, on the other. In that kind of political climate, I think there is some very real danger of a backlash.
But I can't help seeing some good sides anyway. Two more items:
- Mayor Daley of Chicago has come out in favor of allowing same-sex marriages there. This is a lovely article:
A devout Catholic, Daley scoffed at the suggestion that gay marriage would somehow undermine the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.
"Marriage has been undermined by divorce, so don't tell me about marriage. You're not going to lecture me about marriage. People should look at their own life and look in their own mirror. Marriage has been undermined for a number of years if you look at the facts and figures on it. Don't blame the gay and lesbian, transgender and transsexual community. Please don't blame them for it," he said.
- A great quote from Nicholas D. Kristof's New York Times Op-Ed column, December 3, 2003:
A 1958 poll found that 96% of whites disapproved of marriages between blacks and whites (Deuteronomy 7:3 condemns interracial marriages). In 1959 a judge justified Virginia's ban on interracial marriage by declaring that 'Almighty God ... did not intend for the races to mix.' Someday, we will regard opposition to gay marriage as equally obtuse and old-fashioned.
So I think there's still hope.