Anybody remember that in the wake of the Lawrence v Texas decision, everybody
about the anti-gay backlash which would only intensify if gay marriage started
getting onto the agenda? Well, guess what: gay marriage is about to be made
legal in Massachussetts, it’s already happening in San Francisco, and the only
people railing against it seem to be the professional haters who were railing
against Lawrence when that happened, too.
The thing is, you really do need a heart of stone to look at photos
like the one above and not feel happy that this is happening. Now the debate
has come out of the law courts and op-ed pages and onto the streets, people
are seeing what gay marriage actually looks like in practice, and I have a feeling
that they like what they see. Elizabeth McElhinney and Siddiqi Ray are no imminent
threat to America or Americans; they’re just a very happy couple in love who
are now, I presume, enjoying a fabulous honeymoon somewhere.
Meanwhile, President Bush has said as little as possible on the subject since
the San Francisco weddings started happening, and his storm troopers, like California
governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, look increasingly silly when they assert
that these happy loving couples constitute "an imminent risk to civil order".
Even if Bush does eventually come out in favour of a constitutional amendment
banning gay marriage (and it will have taken him long enough), there’s now essentially
zero chance of it actually passing. Meanwhile, when paleoleftists like Chicago’s
Richard Daley also come out in
favour of gay marriage, it’s not hard to work out which way the wind is
But three years of being bashed by Bush has made some on the left overly cautious,
it would seem. Josh Marshall ties
himself up in knots, for instance, trying to explain why he doesn’t oppose
gay marriage, but, then again, doesn’t support it, either. In an ideal world,
he seems to be saying, we’d have gay marriage, but practically speaking, he’s
worried about the backlash. Just think what those nasty Republicans
will do once gays start getting married!
Well, I’m sick of second-guessing what Republicans will and will not want to
vote for. Michael Kinsley wrote a wonderful
article about this a couple of weeks ago, poking fun at Democrats who supported
Lieberman because they disagreed with him on everything, or fled Dean because
"he was so appealing that he scared them".
Political activity is a bit like when government intervention in the foreign
exchange market: it only really works when the momentum is with you, but if
that’s the situation, then it can work wonders. Right now, San Francisco mayor
Gavin Newsom is probably the most astute political activist in the world. He
picked his moment perfectly –Valentine’s Day! Genius! – and ran
with his issue as hard as he could, picking up support from across the country.
As Andrew Sullivan says,
Newsom is also entitled to act according to his conscience and to his own
reading of the state constitution’s guarantees of equal protection, just as
(Alabama judge Roy) Moore was. If he is found guilty of violating his oath
of office, he should face the consequences. Somehow I think one of them might
be re-election in a landslide.
Now I’m not saying that the gay marriage issue might not be bad for the Democrats,
net-net, in the presidential election. Massachussetts senator John Kerry will,
I’m sure, have a hard time selling himself to the Bible Belt if his state is
overrun at the time by gay couples from all over the world lining up to get
But it’s also clear that the US public, in general, has reacted with markedly
less horror to the marriages in San Francisco than it did to the half-second
exposure of Janet Jackson’s right nipple during the Super Bowl half-time show.
It’s slowly becoming clear, I think, that gays are not sexual deviants intent
on undermining the institution of marriage: they’re perfectly normal and ordinary
people who fall in love and want to get married. The queue outside San Francisco’s
City Hall is not made up of the characters who populate Gay Pride parades –
topless dykes on bikes, leather-and-chains bears, drag queens, that sort of
thing. Instead, Middle America looks at the lovers waiting hours and days for
the chance to get married and sees normal people, intent on fulfilling their
own American Dream.
Three thousand married gay couples in San Francisco can’t even come close to
inflicting the kind of damage on marriage as an institution that Britney Spears
managed to do in a drunken weekend. When given the opportunity of taking part
in an institution as important and solemn as marriage, the gay community has
come through with flying colours, treating it with the seriousness and joy it
deserves. In return, I have a feeling that the self-appointed arbiters of public
morality might just feel a twinge of hypocrisy if they rail too loudly about
who can and can’t get married these days.
Now, then, is not the time to pussy-foot around the issue. There’s the smell
of historical inevitability in the air, and we who care about civil rights should
have no compunction in following our noses. Don’t worry about what the Republicans
might think: go out, celebrate gay marriage wherever it occurs, and fight for
it everywhere else. Vermont might have blazed the trail with its civil unions,
but already they’re an anachronism: the institutionalisation of gay unions as
different and unequal.
Gay marriage is not an issue which you can triangulate, Clinton-style, and
end up in some wishy-washy John Kerry "civil unions good, gay marriage
bad" unhappy compromise. If you don’t believe me, look at the disaster
that is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Gay marriage is a civil right, which means that
opposing it is, in a crucial way, un-American. It would be depressing beyond
words if the left, through natural cowardice in an election year, lost the momentum
on this one.