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Frank Rich (NYT): The Joy of Gay Marriage [View All]

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Dudley_DUright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-29-04 01:40 PM
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Frank Rich (NYT): The Joy of Gay Marriage
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Here's the denouement of the epic drama over gay marriage. It's going to happen, it's going to happen within a generation, and it's going to happen even though George W. Bush teed off his re-election campaign this week by calling for a constitutional amendment to outlaw it. As the country has now had weeks to digest, it has already happened in bulk in San Francisco, where images of couples waiting all night in the rain to be wed finally wiped Janet Jackson off our TV screens. The first of those couples, Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83, were celebrating a partnership of 51 years. Take that, heterosexual marriage! The most famous practitioner of mixed-sex nuptials this year, Britney Spears, partook of a Vegas marriage that clocked in at 55 hours.

Whatever their short-term legal fate, the San Francisco weddings mark a new high-water mark in one of the most fast-paced cultural tsunamis America has seen. As Evan Wolfson, the civil rights lawyer who founded Freedom to Marry, says, "An act as unremarkable as getting a wedding license" has been transformed by the people embracing it, much as the unremarkable act of sitting at a Formica lunch counter was transformed by an act of civil disobedience at a Woolworth's in North Carolina 44 years ago this month. Gavin Newsom, the heterosexual, Irish Catholic mayor of San Francisco, described his proactive strategy for advancing same-sex marriage to Time magazine: "Put a human face on it. Let's not talk about it in theory. Give me a story. Give me lives." And so now there have been thousands of gay wedding stories, many of them with the couples' parents and children in the supporting cast, at the same City Hall where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio famously got hitched to no good end a half-century ago.

Like other provocative steps in this civil rights movement or the black civil rights movement before it, the San Francisco weddings may cause a morning-after backlash, though perhaps not as stormy as the one President Bush is courting. The big picture remains the same: this is a revolution churning unstoppably through the culture, where it took root long before the law and politicians, especially those in Washington, started to catch up. In 1986, for instance, the Supreme Court upheld antisodomy laws. But even then Hollywood was advancing the story: Rock Hudson, heterosexual heartthrob No. 1 of the 1950's, had died of AIDS just months earlier, and his homosexuality was a revelation in a country where, polls showed, only 24 percent said they knew anyone who was gay.

A few months after Hudson's death, when I was a drama critic covering the rise of AIDS casualties and AIDS plays in the New York theater, Esquire magazine asked me to write an essay contemplating the impact of gay culture on heterosexual American culture. I knew little about it beyond the theater. But as I researched the story, I discovered that the queer eye was everywhere in my supposedly unambiguously straight world, from the Calvin Klein billboards in Times Square to television's "Dynasty." Much of this influence was as unacknowledged, or unrecognized, by heterosexuals, as gay people themselves usually were.


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