Homophobia is receding faster than anticipated

The Thinker by Rodin

New York State recently became the latest state to permit gays and lesbians to wed. That leaves six states, the District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe that have achieved enlightenment. New York’s approval of gay marriage was especially important because of the size of its population. With its passage, the number of citizens who can marry regardless of their sexual orientation effectively doubled. In addition, six other states allow civil unions but do not allow gay marriage, including the populous state of California.

Even here in Virginia the homophobes are receding. In 2006, Virginia passed a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage in the state (already illegal by law) that also explicitly ruled out civil unions as well. Now just five years later, according to a surprising Washington Post poll, a majority of Virginians now approve of gay marriage. I don’t expect Virginia will approve gay marriage anytime soon, but I now think it is likely that I will live to see gay marriage in Virginia. Back in 2006, I believed it would take at least fifty years. Now I am betting it will take fifteen years.

Even weirder, at least one organization staunchly opposed to gay marriage has given up. Jim Daly, head of Focus on the Family says his organization will no longer try to stop gay marriage legislation. They think it’s a lost cause, in part because they can interpret demographic trends. The younger generation is fine with gay marriage; it’s only those sixty plus who still have heartburn over it.

Overall, homophobia seems to be receding. Even Republicans are caring less. The social conservatives are still against it, but there is a significant libertarian wing of the Republican Party that sees gay marriage as a civil right. More and more Republicans are realizing their inconsistency of promoting a “pro-freedom” agenda while restricting civil liberties for others. Fundamentalists remain largely aghast, but even in conservative communities it’s not unusual for people to know someone who is gay. That’s the problem with homophobia. Once you know someone who is gay, and particularly if you get to know them in any depth, you feel sorry if they do not have the same right to marry as you do. If you have any compassion in your heart, it is hard not to just say yes.

The few opposed to gay marriage who are evidenced-based can look to states like Massachusetts, which instituted gay marriage in 2004, and realize that it has not become a Gomorrah, at least no more than it was before the law took effect. A few years ago I spent a week touring New England, where it’s hard to find a state without gay marriage or civil unions. It felt more like Norman Rockwell territory than many deeply red states I also visited, like Arizona and South Dakota. In New England, there are lots of tidy towns with white picket fences, and more churches per square mile than in the South (perhaps because the population density is higher). For the most part, gay couples are no longer the least bit remarkable in New England. You don’t feel the need to discuss it with your neighbor because you have grown inured to the whole phenomenon. To the extent you think about it, it is to wonder why people in other states are still states up in arms about the whole idea. Where’s the harm? Where’s the implosion of society?

As time passes, the arguments of those opposed to gay marriage only become weaker tea. As I outlined some time ago, marriage between one man and one woman was hardly the historical norm, and in many parts of the world (particularly in Islamic countries) polygamy is as common as monogamy. At least one study suggests that same sex lesbian couples are proving to be better parents than heterosexual parents. In Canada, a study suggests that same sex couples are at least as good as heterosexual parents.

Other studies suggest just how weak other arguments are. Gay-friendly Massachusetts also has the nation’s lowest divorce rate. Divorce rates have not budged since gay marriage became law, as Charles Colson asserted they would in 2004. In fact, being evangelical is apparently more dangerous to your marriage than marrying a same sex partner. Divorce.com notes a study that evangelicals have a 43% divorce rate, which is greater than the national average.

President Obama says his views on gay marriage are “evolving”, but at a news conference yesterday he still could not come out and say he was in favor of gay marriage. He is in favor of equal rights for gays, including civil unions as long as “marriage” is reserved for heterosexual couples. One strongly gets the feeling that Obama is all for gay marriage, but he just does not have the courage to “come out of the closet” on the issue. I expect it will happen after elections next year, whether or not he wins.

It is easiest to manipulate people when you give them something to fear, but it’s clear that the more Americans encounter gays the less they are bothered by them and the more they are in favor of their equal rights, including the right to marry. Saying gay marriage should be illegal because it is immoral is not working too well either, as plenty of activities are immoral, but are not necessarily criminal (adultery and drunkenness comes to mind). Gay marriage seems to have no effect on society whatsoever, either for good or bad. The only thing that is clear is that more people who were denied certain freedoms based purely on their sexual orientation no longer have legalized discrimination working against them. They are freer to enjoy the blessings of liberty.

As a man married to the same woman for a quarter century, I want to give gays and lesbians the same chance at an enduring relationship that I have. Gay marriage clearly says that society wants to encourage serial monogamy between same sex couples, which seems moral to most people as well as inhibits the spread of social diseases. I suspect gay spouses will soon realize that a marriage is no panacea; it is not for us heterosexuals either. Any intimate relationship comes full of landmines as well as benefits.

Wise conservatives are realizing there is little traction on the issue anymore, so they best move on and find new bogeymen instead. Eventually all states will allow gay marriage, not because they necessarily agree it is moral, but because the costs of discriminating against gays will become too high. Over time, gays and lesbians will find incentives to move to gay-friendly states, and they will take their talents (and income) with them. In fact, it is easy to predict that states and cities will highlight their gay-friendliness as a marketing tool. In the end, it will be good old capitalism, not liberal values that are likely to give gays the right to marriage from sea to shining sea. When it happens, it is unlikely to be a moment for celebration. We will simply shrug our shoulders.

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