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April 14, 2009

Getting Used to Gay Marriage

Earlier this month, two more states, Iowa and Vermont, legalized same-sex marriage, with the latter state even becoming the first in the nation to do so by legislative means. Sure, it's only four states out of 50, and comes a few months after Prop 8 eliminated gay marriage in California. But that's still four more states than six years ago. And four more than a certain segment of conservative America is comfortable with.

The right-wing obsession with, and fear of, homosexuality is something that continues to confound and confuse me. There's something about this issue that makes people go absolutely nuts.

A new interest group, called National Organization for Marriage, has launched a campaign against same-sex marriage, kicking off with an unintentionally hilarious 30-second commercial in which actors portraying "concerned citizens" warn of a "storm gathering," in which "some who advocate for same-sex marriage" do all sorts of terrible things like take away the rights of teachers and businessmen to do as they please, and "my freedom will be taken away."

The ad is a laughable exercise in obfuscation, pretending that the quest for marriage equality is synonymous with a handful of outlying legal disputes that have little or nothing to do with the matter at hand.

In reality, no religious institution will be forced to perform or recognize same-sex weddings, just as no church has been forced to recognize any heterosexual union. This argument has absolutely nothing to do with the rights of churches or business, or with discomfort with judicial power. The obsession with gay marriage has everything to do with four things: Republican wedge politics, disrespect of gay people, a wish that they would not get married and, yes, that they would not be gay.

Beyond that, no one has ever or will ever become gay, or not become gay, because of a court decision or legislative act. You think there's this whole generation of young straight people who hear that Vermont legalized same-sex marriage, and therefore decide, "Hey, on second thought, I'll be gay?" This is not the case, and no one who has ever met a gay person could ever conceivably argue that it is.

It's not a zero-sum game. No one loses any rights when gay marriage is legalized. My marriage to my wife becomes no less valid if gays are allowed their own unions. If there are terrible, unjust legal loopholes created by the advent of same-sex marriage, the solution isn't to toss out gay marriage. It's to toss out the loopholes. And yes, the patchwork of legal standards throughout the country are bound to lead to legal headaches down the round, as David Frum pointed out last week. But that's not reason enough, by itself, to eliminate the right to marriage for gays.

Gay people have been around for the entirety of human history, and they're not going away anytime soon. With every successive generation, as more and more people get to know gay friends throughout the country, homosexuality becomes more normalized and more accepted. Wedge politics on this issue, from the right, is every bit as much of a political loser as it is a moral loser.

No, this issue is not about hypothetical legal consequences that could conceivably arise. It is, ultimately, about the dignity and humanity of gay and lesbian Americans. How wonderful it is to see things, legally and politically, moving in the right direction.


2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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