As much as it pains me to do this, I must confess.
Several years ago, I made the bold prediction that we'd one day regard gay marriage in the United States the way we now regard women's suffrage and the emancipation of blacks, as such an obvious fact of life that a country in which it once wasn't might seem almost like an alternate universe. However, despite the conviction with which I made that proclamation, I wasn't so sure.
Opponents of gay marriage, which, astonishingly, included a considerable number of gay people (and for all I know, still do), were so forceful in their opposition that I feared we might never overcome. I certainly never dreamed we'd overcome so far as quickly as we have, which, for many, is probably still too slow. At last count, gay marriage was legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, with five more likely to follow suit after U.S. district courts deemed their bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, last weekend marked the first legal gay marriages in England and Wales (with Scotland to follow in the fall), bringing to 18 the number of countries offering same-sex marriage to at least part of their populace. What a strange and brave, new world it would be to Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century gay Irish writer who was charged with sodomy and gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labor in London, had he lived 114 years longer to see it.
By the time the 2020 U.S. Presidential election rolls around, gay marriage could very well be legal in all 50 states, though it might take a federal ruling to make it happen. The stubborn insistence on states' rights that kept blacks enslaved and launched the U.S. Civil War is once again delaying the inevitable with gay marriage. And inevitable it does seem. I now stand by my initial prediction with all the certainty that I didn't have when I made it.
"[One day] being gay or straight will seem like having brown eyes or blue eyes, no big deal," proud Days of Our Lives dad Justin Kiriakis said on the March 28 episode to his son Sonny on the eve of Sonny's wedding to Will Horton, his boyfriend of nearly two years. Yes, you read that right: This week there's a big, fat, gay wedding, a daytime first, on Days of Our Lives, of all places, the soap which for nearly 50 years has been a bastion of straight supercouples and traditional conservative family values. If that doesn't signal a changing of the guard, I'm not sure what does.
But will marriage rights translate to universal acceptance for gays and lesbians? The virulent homophobia currently surging in countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Russia (and which might be, in part, a reaction to the progress being made in favor of gays and lesbians elsewhere), suggests otherwise. The anti-gay-marriage movement has always been mostly an objection to gays and lesbians, homophobia masquerading as the protection of something that hasn't been sacred for centuries.
Considering that racism and sexism continue to mar the national psyche 150 years after the emancipation of blacks and nearly a century after women's suffrage in the United States, I don't expect homophobia ever to be a non-issue at home either. That said, it's hard to imagine gay marriage, once it's legal nationwide, remaining in contention the way abortion has 40 years after Roe v. Wade.
How silly the argument I once had with a gay friend now seems. He insisted, as did/do numerous gay opponents of gay marriage, that placing it at number one with a bullet on the gay political agenda was sending out a harmful message to gay young people that marriage should be their number one aspiration. Even if that were true, I argued, wouldn't trying to dictate what young, gay people value most be tantamount to straight people telling them who to love?
Gay marriage is legal in two of the four countries I've called home in the last seven and a half years -- Argentina and South Africa -- and there doesn't appear to be a decline in the number of young, gay people who are looking first and foremost for something else, like a good education and a fulfilling career. Many of them still just want to have "fun." If they were now all focused on marriage and praying for the perfect husband to make their lives complete, Grindr wouldn't be the gay phenomenon that it is today. That it's become such a prevalent force in gay life during its five years of existence, which have been completely contained within the gay-marriage movement, renders that argument more or less irrelevant.
As for the idea that gay marriage forces a "straight" institution onto gay relationships, every couple should be as free to incorporate whatever institutions they want to incorporate into their relationship as they are to love whom they want to love. It's disingenuous to tell straight people to stay out of our bedrooms while trying to monitor the goals and aspirations of young gays and lesbians in and out of theirs.
There's been no evidence so far that gays and lesbians have devalued the institution of marriage by being allowed to enter into it (one of the main straight arguments against gay marriage) any more than straight people already had. When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin recently announced their "conscious uncoupling," the dissolution of their 10-year marriage, it was as much front-page news as it would have been a decade ago when gay marriage still seemed to many like an impossible dream.
While it's never been my own personal dream, I view it the way I do skydiving or coffee. I might never try it, but I'm happy that the option is there if I ever get the urge to. No, I'm not crazy about the idea of gay boys and girls growing up dreaming about their perfect fairytale wedding, but if it hasn't rendered straight women collectively shallow and empty, why should it have a detrimental effect on gays and lesbians?
It's always struck me as being more dangerous and potentially damaging to the psyches of young gay people to tell them that their relationships are not worthy of being recognized by the same name as straight partnerships. "Civil unions," even ones that come with all the benefits of marriage, will not do if "marriage" is being given to some and denied to others. It's like "separate but equal" all over again.
I might actually be able to get behind a general anti-marriage movement on the grounds that "marriage" discriminates against single people, who aren't afforded the same financial and immigration breaks as married people. It's also an outdated institution whose symbolic significance has been cheapened by the sheer number of people who casually enter and exit it. But why single out gay marriage as the problem when it's straight people who have been abusing it all along?
Those who are content with their "civil unions" and/or have no interest in walking down the aisle will continue to be free not to. I, for one, am happy being the best man (as I was for my brother 10 years ago) or the "bridesmister" (which I've now done for two straight female friends), but I'm still looking forward to dancing at many gay weddings in the years to come. And I'll expect to hear better music, which means please, don't play that funky music, white boy.