When the historians look under the covers on civil rights, they are all but assured to see John McCain's appearance on the the Ellen Degeneres Show as one of the great seminal (sic) moments in the history of gay emancipation.
Ellen -- the woman who came out famously on her late sit-com as a gay woman -- asked the putative Republican presidential nominee if he would not be willing to talk about "the elephant in the room" on her syndicated talk show. McCain, the blind man touching the rump of said pachyderm, walked right in the door of daytime television and came out with a snoutful.
And thereby hangs a tale.
SENATOR JOHN McCAIN: Well, my thoughts are that I think that people should be able to enter into legal agreements, and I think that that is something that we be should encouraging, particularly in the case of insurance and other areas, decisions that have to be made. I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman. And I know that we have a respectful disagreement on that issue.
ELLEN DeGENERES: Yeah, I mean, I think that it's -- it is looked at -- and some people are saying the same -- that blacks and women did not have the right to vote. I mean, women just got the right to vote in 1920. Blacks didn't have the right to vote until 1870. And it just feels like there is this old way of thinking that we are not all the same. We are all the same people, all of us. You're no different than I am. Our love is the same. To me -- to me, what it feels like -- just, you know, I will speak for myself -- it feels -- when someone says, "You can have a contract, and you'll still have insurance, and you'll get all that," it sounds to me like saying, "Well, you can sit there; you just can't sit there." That's what it sounds like to me. It feels like -- it doesn't feel inclusive...It feels -- it feels isolated. It feels like we are not -- you know, we aren't owed the same things and the same wording.
SENATOR JOHN McCAIN: Well, I've heard you articulate that position in a very eloquent fashion. We just have a disagreement. And I, along with many, many others, wish you every happiness.
Before we slice him up like kielbasa, let us now praise John McCain for his continuing willingness to go into the lioness's den--or is it the elephantessa's study?--to talk the talk with people who thinks his ideas are of Martian origin. (Where have you gone, Ray Walston?) He opposes a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman, but he believes the states should protect the institution none the same. As with abortion and creationism, the U.S. Senator stands firmly and conclusively with the righteous on the Right.
Is it harsh to liken the Senator from Arizona and other civil unionists to segregationists who fought to the death to deny equality to blacks? Perhaps. (McCain, infamously, opposed Martin Luther King Day, no doubt wishing blacks all the happiness before delivering all the more.) Still there's no denying and no debate about the fact that civil union for homosexuals have become the equivalent of the back of the bus, the separate water fountain that inevitably leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Though a hop-step toward equality, by their very nature civil unions create a sub-category of second-class citizenship in the name of defending marriage.
Vermont has civil unions--I covered the story out of Burlington for the Chicago Tribune--Massachusetts has gay marriage, and the California Supreme Court has freshly ruled that the inevitable inequality of civil unions is now inadmissible under law, thereby allowing Ellen to marry Portia. Both houses of California's legislature voted for gay marriage before Republicanator Arnold Schwartzenegger muscled in with his veto, and the question goes on the state ballot in November.
The battle has been joined. Defense of marriage statutes will continue to gain traction in more conservative states like Louisiana and Missouri, but such limited legislative success does little to shore up the arguments of Marriage Firsters. In the name of defending marriage, Focus on the Family's Tony Perkins insists ad nauseum on national television that gay marriage will inevitably lead to polygamy or marriage between man and elephant -- the intellectual equivalent of an empty suit. A true "defense of marriage" act would simply ban divorce, or require a waiting period in the same way cooler heads can sometimes prevail before one can pony up for a Saturday Night Special.
Senator McCain, a reasonable man, will also do his best to hide behind states rights arguments that the Federalist Society so love. But a national solution is required and even demanded here. Can you imagine a husband stricken gravely ill while traveling with his wife in Missouri, with his wife by law unable to make decisions that determine his fate? It's no different now for the married gay couple from Massachusetts, or the civil unionized homosexual partners from Vermont who travel through the Show-Me State.
None of the married population would stand for that notion, so it's no stretch to say gay couples deserve the same respect and protection under law in every state of the union. The same goes for child-rearing, and the rock-dumb idea that a heterosexual couple is ipso facto better at raising children than homosexuals. Balderdash. One good parent, regardless of sexual orientation, is far better than two bad heterosexual parents on any day of the week.
It may take years, it may take decades -- it may even take the entire 21st Century -- but gay marriage is an issue that will one day rule the day in America, because separate but equal is not good enough in the greatest country in the history of the world.
All men, and all women, really are created equal. And we wish them all the happiness.