Sunday, October 11, 2009

#82-Same Sex Marriage

It was the decade when...

Gays got married. Then they got angry!

It is no small irony that Justice Scallia's stinging dissent in Lawrence V. Texas, the landmark Supreme Court court-case of 2003 that ruled the antiquated anti-sodomy laws still on the books in many states unconstitutional, provides the logical framework for same-sex marriage with ringing clarity. He writes:
Today's opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned. If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is "no legitimate state interest" for purposes of proscribing that conduct...what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising "[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution," ibid.? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry. This case "does not involve" the issue of homosexual marriage only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with the decisions of this Court. Many will hope that, as the Court comfortingly assures us, this is so.
This from a man who quotes Cole Porter Lyrics in official Supreme Court decisions. But Scalia's fears were not unfounded. The Lawrence V. Texas decision, announced the week of gay pride in a serendipitous coincidence, was the first domino to fall in a decade that saw a cascade of progress for gay civil rights, most importantly and most famously, the right to marry.

In 2001 The Netherlands (of course) were the first nation in the world to recognize same-sex marriage. In 2003 Ontario followed suit, with Canada granting universal marriage rights to all citizens in 2005. By the end of the decade seven different countries (including South Africa!) have full legal marriage for same-sex couples. Many others have newly enacted civil union laws. And in America, after the shackles of legal and institutionalized homophobia were loosened with Lawrence, same-sex marriage became, just as Scalia predicted, not a lofty dream but a logical necessity and social inevitability. Within six months of the Lawrence decision the ice had thawed enough to allow for the Supreme Court of Massachusetts to demand the that Bay State offer the same marriage license to all its inhabitants, gay or straight. In the culture war equivalent of the sinking of the Lusitania, the Massachusetts ruling promised a battle over gay marriage that would last years if not decades.

In another ironic twist for the Scalias of the world, the mass of media coverage on same-sex marriage, fueled by the right's hysterical response to the nuptials, only made gay people look more sympathetic. Here were women in white dresses, and men in tuxes, often with children in tow, kissing on city hall steps and sharing wedding cake. Weddings like any other. The wholesomeness of the images was almost comic. And yet, the defenders of traditional marriage keep repeating, ad naseum, as they attempted to enshrine discrimination into the U.S. Constitution, that these marriages were a "threat" to the very fabric of society. Sugar, I think homos know a thing or two about fabric.

For sheer drama nothing could compare to the all-out clusterfuck that was Proposition 8, the Gettysburg of the same-sex marriage battles. After the Supreme Court of California legalized same-sex marriage in May of 2008, the second State in America to do so, it was inevitable that the largest state in the Union would, through the mechanism of its "dysfunctional" ballot measure system, put the question of gay marriage to a public vote. Battle lines were drawn and each side mobilized to win what became the most expensive ballot measure in history. When Prop 8 passed, writing discrimination into the constitution of the State of California with a simple majority vote, a sleeping giant was awoken - the gay community was ready to bust out a big can of whoop-ass. Spontaneous protests erupted all over CA (and elsewhere), the shock of the loss shaking formerly complacent homos into action. The Mormon Church proved an effective locus for anger and complaint when it was revealed that the church and its followers had been the biggest donors to the winning side.

All sorts of mini-dramas popped into existence. When it was discovered that the owner of gay hotspot El Coyote in Los Angeles was a Mormon and Yes on 8 donor, an impromptu boycott threatened to close the doors on this longtime LA eatery. A hastily arranged press conference ended in shouting and tears; you can watch the whole thing, if you can stomach it. The skirmish got some press attention but it was a trite kerfuffle compared to the outrage over Scott Eckern, the Artistic Director of California Musical Theatre in Sacramento. Not only biting the hand that feeds him but swallowing it whole and then informing his victim how delightful his thumb tasted, Eckern, a Mormon (natch!), contributed $1000 to the Yes On 8 campaign, a fact that once discovered caused no small uproar in the Broadway community. Calls for his resignation came quickly: Susan Egan, Belle herself, circulated a damning letter about Eckern to her theatrical address book, and the word spread fast; soon Broadway composer Marc Shaiman was threatening to deny the company all future rights to his shows as long as Eckern remained at the helm. He resigned less than a week after election day. With that much anger in the air, someone's head had to roll.

Though homos had lost the battle on Prop 8, it became clear, with Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont (through legislative means no less), New Hampshire and Maine all legalizing same-sex marriage in rapid succession, that the opposition was losing the war. And, as more and more gays get married with society staying mysteriously still intact, the forces of discrimination and bigotry (and bad fashion) will lack any and all ammunition to combat the inevitable tide of history. And if this blog post has been more serious than most, less pithy in tone and even, god help us all, a little treacly, well, so be it. There are some things about this decade that we can feel proud about. There are some things we really ought to remember.

You AUGHT to remember.


  1. Thank you. Great distilled history of the decade. So much more could be said about the struggle in individual cities and States. Look at corporate America and its acceptance of same-sex benefits. What will our grandchildren think when they look back at this time? I imagine the same as we look back on the civil rights movement of the 60s/70s. Where were you during the greatest civil rights battle of our generation?

  2. hello, I love this post, some time at the university conducted a study called marriage and sex, where I learned a lot about this subject