Someday my kids will look back at the current gay marriage debate with the same disbelief I have when looking back at the legal racial segregation from a generation ago. Let me explain:
Growing up, I was under the impression that human history was an inevitable progression toward something better. Toward equality, even. And looking at history as it is taught in public schools, this seems like a natural conclusion. Especially with American history. We learn that hundreds of years ago, Americans enslaved Africans and killed off an entire continent of Native Americans. But we eliminated slavery and went to a system of segregation and oppression, which sucks, but isn’t quite as bad as slavery. Next, we got rid of legal segregation as well. In the 90s there were race riots, but that’s not near as troubling as segregation and slavery. If we stayed on this course, it seemed like racial equality would be just around the corner.
And it wasn’t just racial issues that fit into this worldview of mine. Women’s rights, environmental issues… pretty much everything seemed to be progressing toward something better or maybe away from something worse. Of course, there will always be certain issues – like abortion and the death penalty – that will divide the country. In billions of years, when all life in the galaxy is on the verge of extinction due to the supernova of the sun, conservatives will still be protesting outside abortion clinics and liberals will be protesting outside prisons. And both will be wielding signs that read, “Respect life.”
It wasn’t until I grew up that I actually encountered racism and bigotry firsthand. While this may have distorted my worldview a little, I still maintained the impression that better days lie ahead.
But then along came the issue of gay marriage. President Bush tried to amend the constitution to hinder gay marriages, and the next thing you know we’re living in a world that eerily resembles The Scarlet Letter. Republicans and Democrats are unified in their opposition to all things sexual (particularly homosexual); John Kerry is so scared of the issue, he doesn’t want it to be part of the Democratic platform; lawmakers are trying to ban gay books; Texas is outlawing cheerleading; phone companies are becoming anti-gay; and researchers have people smelling pee and sweat to find out where The Gay comes from.
All of this is eerily similar to Civil Rights issues of the past century. Politicians were reluctant to openly support integration for fear of alienating voters, scientists debated biological versus cultural differences between the races, and companies supported and profited from catering to racist customers.
I still believe our society is progressing forward – I just made the mistake of thinking we were farther along than we really are. If I ask my grandparents what it was like living in a time when such racism and oppression existed, they would probably just say, “Nobody knew better at the time.”
So when it comes down to it, the gay marriage debate and the power-grab by the ultra-conservative religious right is not that big of a deal. It will pass. Someday homosexuals will have the right to marry (or have civil unions) all across the U.S. And someday my grandchildren will ask me what it was like living in a time when the government was so concerned with what two men or two women did in the bedroom. I’ll just laugh and say, “We didn’t know any better at the time.”
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