Regarding just about any sort of societal unpleasantness, you can often say aloud “Well, that’s just wrong” and you’d be correct. But saying that in 1962 about denying civil rights would only buy you a moment of expression. It wasn’t until people died in bombings, were sprayed by fire hoses in courageous demonstrations, and were attacked by the sheriff’s dogs that things actually started to move and change. And then there was law, and you can point out that for years after the law many people continued to hold on to their hate and backwards thinking as though oblivious to the law of their land.
In clearly stating that it is wrong to deny people the full rights of marriage because they are gay, our President has purchased his moment of expression and we who have sensed that a wrong thing needed to be made right are applauding him. But it hardly means that, overnight, there will be a change in the hearts of those who still fear homosexuality for whatever irrational and confounding reasons. And will it stop discrimination? Not by Mitt Romney, who folded like a wet paper bag when pressure was applied concerning a gay member of his campaign staff: The gentleman in question was asked to leave.
This is an issue of civil rights, and we now place civil rights up there on the shelf with the freedoms that define what America is. But is same-sex marriage now a part of our national weave, or a thread yet to be woven in?
It appears that if Romney is thick enough, and he certainly doesn’t back away from appearing thick, he will maintain his posture against gay marriage. Regardless of how that prioritizes as something Presidential candidates should be debating, Romney’s stance will bring a level of reckoning to the issue on a national level. It will likely lead to a certain volume or amount of argument regarding “morality.” It is a moral issue, but not the one the other side wants us to think that it is: It’s the morality of civil rights, not voodoo time-warp views of gays as amoral.
Much like racial civil rights, the right to gay marriage has traveled a path of existing to one side, then to being pulled closer to the center, and now (if this is how we want to characterize Obama’s statement) being baptized as representing an American value. As with civil rights, the process has been one of slowly exposing irrational and illogical attitudes to sunlight until they melted away enough to reveal the rational and logical path we knew we had to take.
A moment please on that “melting” process I just spoke of. If you think of America’s political and social progress as a clock moving forward, then you might allow the metaphor of time bandits; people who will grab the hands of that clock and attempt to push them backwards. Rush Limbaugh on women’s access to health care. Right-to-carry gun laws that essentially make all of America the old Wild West: Are we surprised when they result in something like the Trayvon Martin shooting? In media and entertainment there are “comedians” who want the freedom to invoke hoary stereotypes (because they are without another idea) and the grunting as they yank on the clock hands is audible. In all of this, I readily concede that there can be generational dissonance. Although only days ago, I was involved in a red-hot debate online regarding the propriety of a young female comic making light of rape on “The Tonight Show.”
In politics the time bandits are constantly at work, boldly stalling our progress by grabbing the clock hands and insisting that anything that came before was just some glitch; a mistake that happens when progressives and “socialists” get their way. And it won’t surprise you if I suggest that there are those that would like us to believe that the event of an African American becoming President was just such a glitch that now needs to be corrected. Fixed. Set back (or backwards) to things as they were. They will offer as proof “He likes gay marriage.”
That will precipitate a certain amount of ugliness attempting to disguise itself as a dialogue on “values.” We’ll have to be ready for that, because as I mentioned it seems Romney is almost eager to beat that tired drum to summon evangelicals and other right wing voters. As that drumbeat gets louder, we’ll have a clear view of something we often turn away from: Americans stuck in a weak rationalization of their own futures built from salvaged pieces of the past that long ago became obsolete.
That will slow the weaving of the same-sex marriage thread. Long ago, George Carlin had an observation about Americans accepting that young men were letting their hair grow long. A middle-aged woman would see a bag boy at a grocery store with long hair. And she would turn to her friend and say, “Oh, he’s like Larry.” That’s kind of what’s happened here: We all know someone now and we’ve realized that discrimination is not sustainable. What we have to remember is that, historically, this is a nation that always has a contingent unwilling to let the clock hands turn.