Gay marriage gets even

DAVID EHRENSTEIN maintains a blog at

GAY MARRIAGE in the United States is on the ropes and fighting for its legal and political life. In the last year alone, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a same-sex marriage bill in California; the supreme courts of New York, Washington and Georgia upheld marriage bans; and at least a dozen states have passed, or are working on, anti-gay-marriage laws.

True, gay and lesbian couples residing in Massachusetts can get hitched, but gone are the heady days of 2004 when scores of male and female couples dashed up the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall to say their respective “I do’s.”

But take heart. Lance Bass, a singer with the now-defunct boy band N’Sync, has come out of the closet, disclosing to People magazine two weeks ago that he’s in a “very stable relationship” with actor/model and reality television star Reichen Lehmkuhl. Upon hearing this news, the first word that popped into my head was “even!”


“Seinfeld” fans doubtless recall the 1994 episode when Jerry, in contrast to the ever-roiling fortunes of George, Elaine and Kramer, finds that everything works out “even” for him. If he loses one job, he’s sure to get another. If he breaks up with a girlfriend, he’ll quickly find a replacement. So it is with gay marriage in the U.S. -- even as we lose ground politically, cultural acceptance continues to accelerate.

Same-sexuality, once marginalized, is now part of the mainstream. And it’s this mainstreamizing that the radical right longs to reverse -- hoping against hope that a federal gay-marriage ban will be a “They Shall Not Pass,” leading to a complete socio-sexual 180. The trouble for them is not only that a gay-marriage ban would be shutting the barn door long after the horse has fled -- but that the horse in fact has won the Kentucky Derby. When Ian McKellen can blithely bring a boy toy with him to the Oscars, Rosie O’Donnell be afforded a place of honor on “The View,” and Anne Heche lose cred for re-embracing heterosexuality, it’s pretty clear that, in the immortal words of Judy Garland, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

The turning point was the AIDS epidemic. As people were dying, closet doors flew open, and the straight world quickly learned that the gay one wasn’t as alien as they imagined. In Hollywood, this had a particular effect via the Disney cartoon blockbusters “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” Because many of the leading Disney animators were gay, rival studios lured talent with the promise of same-sex spousal benefits. Faster than Aladdin’s genie, this practice went industrywide, with a once-reluctant Disney falling right in line, much to the chagrin of Focus on the Family. This year, as the L.A. Times’ Patrick Goldstein has noted, three of the four most profitable movies have been animated features; the fourth stars a sexually ambiguous pirate.

Just as telling, a recent New York Daily News item noted that “Sean William Scott turned heads when he showed up at Los Angeles gay bar Heat on the arm of David Geffen.” In the past, no newspaper column made mention of gay bars, and had they done so, the stars in question would have fought tooth and nail to scotch the item. Not now. And the reason can be found in a Pew Research Center poll released last week.

“On the subject of gay unions, 56% opposed giving gays the right to marry, but 53% favored allowing gays to enter into legal agreements that provide many of the same rights as married couples,” a Reuters summary reported. “There has been an increase ... in the proportion of Americans who believe homosexuality is innate -- 36%, up from 30% in 2003. Similarly, 49% believed homosexuals cannot be changed to heterosexual, compared to 42% in 2003.”

The tide has clearly turned. Pat Buchanan, of all people, is calling for an “armistice” in the culture war and encouraging conservatives to give up fighting for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. As columnist and gay dad Dan Savage noted in a New York Times Op-Ed article last month, “I’m confident that one day my son will live in a country that allows his parents to marry. His parents are already married as far as he’s concerned, as my boyfriend and I tied the knot in Canada more than a year and a half ago.” So until the “Land of the Free” catches up with the Great White North, it’s no to gay marriage, but yes to Lance Bass.