On Gay Marriage in NY
I know very few people will read this; it’s been months since I last posted. And lord knows I haven’t written a word about politics since forever. I’ve been surprised by how disappointed I am in my state since yesterday, and I’m not sure where else I have to say these things.
My state senator Eric Adams declared his support for gay marriage, comparing it to the Supreme Court decision to declare bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. The language used in opposition to interracial marriage and homosexual marriage, he argues, is the same–a hysterical plea not to support an abomination in the eyes of God. Senator Adams appeals to the absurdity that, just over 40 years ago, his child would not have been able to marry children of some of his white Republican colleagues. Absurd!
But interracial relationships are still uncommon; in many families, they’re absolutely taboo. I cannot know whether the absurdity of the situation Adams describes struck his colleagues the way it struck me, coming from a white Southern family in which the first question asked about any new boyfriend or girlfriend is, “Is s/he white?” I used to think it was a joke, because everyone laughed at it. The “joke,” I didn’t realize at the time, was that no one in my family would dare date a non-white person, not with the intention of marriage. It might be legal, but that doesn’t mean it was possible. When a cousin of mine wanted to act out in high school, the first thing she did was get a black boyfriend. Of course she wasn’t going to marry him, she insisted; she just wanted to piss her dad off. It did.
The legalization of gay marriage no more solves the problem of homophobia than Loving v. Virginia ended racism. Treating people like human beings under the law does not mean their parents will treat them like human beings. It will still be legal for parents to tell their kids that gay people go to hell, or to kick them out of the house when they come out. Parents will continue to raise their gay kids to hate themselves, and to raise their straight kids to hate others. Jokes made to humiliate queer people will still be told, and will still get laughs. Trans people will still get beat up for walking down the street. Queer couples will still worry about who’s watching if they hold hands or kiss on the street or in a park.
There will be young people who can no more imagine being openly gay than they can imagine sprouting wings. There will still be straight marriages made in the hopes of controlling gay desire. Parents will still encourage their children to lie to them, or leave out details of their lives. Phone conversations will still end with a child whispering “I’m in love” to a dial tone. We’ll always feel, as keenly as ever, the certainty that our parents would rather not know us than know us for who we are.
Gay marriage won’t change any of this when it happens–and it will certainly happen. If you’re afraid of losing your right to be homophobic, or your church’s right to be homophobic, take comfort in the example of the persistence of racism. You will always have the right to teach your children that some people aren’t really people, even if those people are your children, or in love with your children. It’s never too late to deny your children the love and acceptance they so badly want from you.
The legalization of gay marriage won’t mean you can’t run for office on a homophobic platform, just as plenty of anti-miscegenists have run on racist platforms since Loving. The legalization of gay marriage won’t prevent you from picketing weddings and harassing couples, as plenty of anti-abortionists have picketed clinics since Roe. Bring your kids, so they can really get to know who you are and what you stand for, what matters most to you. Maybe you’ll get to watch them follow in your footsteps. Or maybe once they decide who they are and what they stand for, they’ll already know what you think of them.
From the example of Loving, there is one way in which it is possible that gay marriage will change America, beyond the couples themselves who would like to marry. Listen to the way Adams takes for granted that laws against interracial marriage were absurd. Can you believe it? America used to prohibit these marriages! The government gradually stopped doing the legwork for racism. If you want to raise your kids to be racist now, you have to do it yourself! It takes effort! They’re getting messages in the media (occasionally) and at school (sometimes) that being a racist is not cool, so you’ve got to be clear with them about what matters most to you. You have to come out as a racist, and believe in what you stand for. The government is not going to carry that water anymore.
After gay marriage becomes legal across the US, there will come a time when non-straight Americans will shake their heads and say, Can you believe it? America used to prohibit gay marriage! They’ll still come from families that turn on them, and from religions that shun them. They’ll still be made fun of, harassed, attacked, and picketed. But at least they’ll know that their government is no longer responsible for setting the example that they are less than human. Homophobes will no longer be able to defer to the authority of the state, but will have to do their own harassment all by themselves.
I’d love to end this post by saying that, even though racism still exists, it’s less than before. I do hope and think that’s true. But what really matters is that racism is less acceptable than before. Racist jokes are still made, but they’re more private. You can’t assume the other white guy at work is going to laugh at your “darky” joke, so you save it for your wife. Or maybe you realize that even though you’re racist, you don’t want to see your kids grow up to hate and fear people. And I hope this is happening with homophobia. I know it’s not easy or even realistic for people to change such deeply-held beliefs. But I look forward to the day when a guy saves that “fag” joke for his wife, or when a mother who believes gays go to hell tells her daughter she will love her no matter what.