I tell you this because I’m about to talk about marriage, specifically same-sex marriage or (in the fine tradition of making sure you don’t say what makes sense and therefore must go ahead and say what you don’t want to say anyway) marriage equality. I’m about to ramble on about “marriage equality,” and I’d prefer you don’t think my position in favor is simply a case of wanting something for myself.
Honestly, I think disposing of marriage completely makes much more sense. But that’s a post for another time.
This week, Rhode Island’s legislature passed a bill making it legal for gay men and lesbians to get married, becoming the tenth state to do so and wrapping up New England with a pretty little rainbow-colored bow. Ten states (and the District of Columbia), out of 50. That’s 20 percent, in case you’re keeping score. One out of every five US states has legalized same-sex marriage. If this were the United Nations, we’d be talking about 38.5 countries.
And if you’re wondering, 14 countries have taken this extraordinary step, France the most recent. Not nearly as good a record as US states, but that’s irrelevant because I just want to talk about these United States.
Now, to no one’s surprise, not a single one of these 10 states is here in the glorious south. In fact, all the southern states specifically ban same-sex marriage, joining such decidedly un-southern states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon and, for now anyway, California.
But all that’s changing, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
I knew we’d crossed that line, the one you can’t uncross, back in the fall of 2000, when NBC moved Will and Grace to its vaunted “Must See TV” Thursday night line-up. Granted, it was near the end of the network’s rule of that time period, but still. Will and Grace featured not one but two gay characters, one a stereotypical clean-pressed gay man and the other one Jack. And in June, on ABC’s family network, no less, the Jennifer Lopez-produced sitcom The Fosters will debut. The Fosters is about a bi-racial lesbian couple and their children. That’s gotta really stick in the craw of the Wildmons and the Robertsons and the Dobsons.
Before that, waaaaaay back in 1992, a Marvel superhero, Northstar, said those scary, scary words: I am gay. Just last year, Northstar married his longtime male partner. A year before that, Kevin Keller, the gay military officer in Archie — ARCHIE, as in Archie and Veronica — married his African-American partner, Clay Walker. We’re just not the tragic, doomed characters we always used to be (The Children’s Hour, anyone?).
Some day, probably not real soon, even the southern states are gonna realize they can’t go on being throwbacks to a time that never really existed in the first place. Ozzie and Harriet were barely the norm when ABC had them lead off the Friday night prime time line-up in 1952.
And then there’s the big upcoming US Supreme Court decisions on California’s Prop 8 and the dreaded DOMA, acronym for the very inaptly named Defense of Marriage Act, passed by a 1996 Congress that feared Bill Clinton was gonna turn everybody gay and signed by Clinton to prove he wasn’t. There’s a big ole world of options for the justices to consider, and none of the involve turning back the clock. It’s just way too late for that. A quick look at the shifting positions of even some of the most conservative of congresscritters makes that clear.
All this to say that George Webber was right.
You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.
That’s as true now as whenever it was that Thomas Wolfe, who died in 1940, penned those words. But the really odd thing about it all is this: When all this change is made, finally, thousands of gay men and lesbians will, finally, be able to go home to their hearts.
In the end, the only real constant is change.