L8 GR8 PLANET H8: I remember how disappointed I felt while attending a legally recognized wedding between two women a few years ago. Sure, it was touching. Yes, the angels sang. But where were the bricks and mortar of Western Civilization crashing into the sea? Where was all the satanic smoke?
What, I wondered, was all the fuss about?
One of the brides was my baby sister, Liz. She was marrying her longtime companion, Amy. Liz and Amy live in Massachusetts, a state that at the time had just seen fit to recognize the knot these two had already spent nearly 20 years — and two kids — tying. I have forgotten many details since. But I do remember the smiles. Theirs was a declaration of love in the first degree — premeditated and deliberate. At that time, however, gay marriage was just peaking as the boogeyman wedge issue of American politics, effectively scaring people silly, Republican, or both. It was no coincidence, after all, that for the Bush-Kerry presidential race, gay marriage initiatives were on the ballot in several key states that tipped the balance in favor of Bush. In that context, Liz and Amy’s wedding was something bold and radical. It just didn’t feel that way. Instead, it was utterly and completely normal, right down to a new in-law with the bad hairpiece who chewed my ear soaking wet at the reception.
I read the ruling, all 135 pages. Boiled down, it concluded that “Ewww! Ick!” no longer qualifies as a constitutionally defensible position for denying a whole class of people the right to marry whom they choose.
Last week, sanity struck. Or maybe it just happened. Federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that California’s Prop. 8 — which outlawed anything but heterosexual unions in California — is unconstitutional. I read the ruling, all 135 pages. Boiled down, it concluded that “Ewww! Ick!” no longer qualifies as a constitutionally defensible position for denying a whole class of people the right to marry whom they choose. No, the Constitution doesn’t mention the right to marry. Maybe that’s why the Supreme Court has had to grapple with marriage no less than 14 times since 1888. Proponents of Prop. 8 have since protested that Walker was biased because he’s gay. The same people brushed away concerns, voiced by some gay activists before the trial, that Walker — appointed by presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush the First — might be tougher on gay issues precisely because he was gay. Walker had famously sued the Gay Olympics for trademark infringement on behalf of the International Olympic Committee and won.
For a class of people to be denied a basic right, Walker opined, somebody had to make a compelling case that the state actually had a stake in the outcome. It wasn’t just that proponents of Prop. 8 failed to make that case; it’s that they never even showed up. The one expert they could muster agreed under cross-examination that in 13 specific ways, society and gay people alike would benefit if same-sex marriages were allowed. America, the expert conceded, would actually become more American if gay marriage got the green light. Even so, he insisted same-sex marriage would undermine the family structure. Kids will suffer. Studies said so. As the judge noted, the studies cited compared the experiences of single-parent kids with two-parent kids. If you’re going to call someone a fruit, don’t be mixing your apples and your oranges.
We heard all this two years ago, when the Mormon and Catholic churches engaged in a $43-million conspiracy to persuade voters that without Prop. 8, kids would be brainwashed to go gay. Little girls would be taught, as one ad suggested, that they, too, could marry a princess. In hindsight, this seems sweetly optimistic, suggesting an unfounded belief that kids listen to anything their teachers say. But aided and abetted by the colossal incompetence of people running the $40-million campaign against Prop. 8, this strategy won a majority of 52 percent.
Since then, it seems conservatives have grown bored with the issue. Maybe they’ve pushed that button too many times. Gay people just aren’t as scary as they used to be. It’s been at least 50 years since the Traditional American Family resembled anything approximating the cornerstone of Western Civilization. Or even the traditional American family. When the Supreme Court ordered schools desegregated 50 years ago, people — like the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell — worried if blacks and whites were allowed to sit in a classroom together, there would be no excuse to stop them from getting married, which at the time was against the law. It wouldn’t be until the late 1960s that the high courts overturned the last state bans on interracial marriage. The fate of Western Civilization, we were warned, hung in the balance. We heard the same thing when women objected that their legal identities were extinguished the moment they tied the knot. A married woman could not own property or sue anyone in her own name. Certainly where marriage is concerned, things ain’t what they used to be. But they never were. “Tradition,” Judge Walker wrote, “is not enough.”
Massachusetts allowed same-sex marriages and absolutely nothing happened. The divorce rate there is exactly the same four years after gay marriage as it was four years before. Sociologists have discovered that divorce rates are actually lower in states without gay marriage bans and lower in states with such bans.
The beginning of the end commenced in earnest in 2003 when the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law outlawing sodomy, even between consenting heterosexuals, as unconstitutional. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the minority opinion, getting it right even as he got it wrong. Deploying that high-minded verbal vainglory unique to judges, Scalia wondered, “If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is ‘no legitimate state interest’ for purposes of proscribing that conduct, … what justification could there be possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples …?” The answer, it seems, is none.
In the meantime, it seems, we’ll have to discover new things to fight about. That shouldn’t prove difficult. People will still get married, some will have kids, and some will get divorced. Only now, gays and lesbians will be included. The family will survive. As far as Western Civilization goes, there’s no need to worry. That fell into the sea centuries ago.