Is there no sin in it?

Ethics, empiricism, and auxiliary verbs

On Gay Marriage in NY

with 19 comments

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.

Written by A White Bear

December 3, 2009 at 4:42 pm

19 Responses

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  1. The legalization of gay marriage no more solves the problem of homophobia than Loving v. Virginia ended racism.

    This is the flip side of the comparison between gay marriage and interracial marriage — the legalization can only be a first step; it’s taking a depressingly long time to make that step.

    The Modesto Kid

    December 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm

  2. But I look forward to the day when a guy saves that “fag” joke for his wife

    AWB, you incorrigible romantic.


    December 3, 2009 at 7:09 pm

  3. Thank you.


    December 3, 2009 at 7:22 pm

  4. Well said. I love Sen. Adams’s speech. I did a bit of legwork during the last campaign to help get a Democrat elected to a previously Republican senate seat. That motherfucker voted against marriage equality yesterday without explaining why.

    Bave Dee

    December 3, 2009 at 8:27 pm

  5. Bave Dee

    December 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm

  6. Those are the people who pissed me off the most. At least Sen. Diaz had the balls to say out loud why he was voting against it. I look forward to the day when people can no longer take for granted that the government is homophobic. And yeah, Addabbo can seriously suck it.

    A White Bear

    December 3, 2009 at 8:31 pm

  7. Oh, and here’s my favorite: Maggie Gallagher at The Corner whinging about precisely the kind of moral, courageous rhetoric that Sen. Adams uses because it’s “disrespectful treatment of diverse views on gay marriage.”

    Bave Dee

    December 3, 2009 at 9:30 pm

  8. Ew. There are basically two ways to argue for gay marriage. There’s (1) I am or am close to someone who is gay and have seen this shit go down w/r/t family/end-of-life issues and man it is ugly, and (2) I am or am close to someone who has been told their personhood under the law is not as important as some bullshit about religion or culture and man it is ugly. If (1) is disallowed as anecdata, and (2) is disallowed as analogy, what do those assholes want from us? A Bible verse that says Jesus actually really loved gay people and wanted them to get married?

    A White Bear

    December 3, 2009 at 9:56 pm

  9. “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.”

    Laughing, crying, same time.

    Fuck all, this is a slow and maddening world.


    December 3, 2009 at 11:34 pm

  10. (Yay! you’re back!)

    You’re spot-on about haw families are left to do the legwork. My sister married a perfectly lovely Hindu school-mate, and after 2 glasses of pinot grigio, my Mother gather me and our my other sister out of earshot to ask us to “…make sure you marry someone white…”

    Mom will swear “now, I’m not a racist- but…”

    yeah, maddening.


    December 4, 2009 at 1:31 pm

  11. Dan Savage said something similar this week: that when conservative religious figures are all “the queers are going to hell!” as a reason we shouldn’t be allowed to get married, the correct response is, “who else’ll be there?” Because mostly, they think anyone they disagree with theologically is also going to hell, but in the US, all those sinners get equal civil rights – the punishment is left up to the afterlife.

    I think one reason being queer is different is that queers show up in all kinds of families. This is good – more people are related to and know us – and bad – people fear that social acceptance will make their child queer. That, as you say, they’ll have to push the bigotry themselves. It’s a real burden, that.


    December 5, 2009 at 5:20 pm

  12. I don’t see the analogy as a strong one between Loving and gay marriage because gay marriage normalizes gay relationships in a way that marriage can’t normalize race.

    Not elegantly put, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

    Of course, a big argument was that intermarriage would gradually dissolve racism because it would make races indistinct. And they surely will be, in time. But a long, long, long time.

    I agree with your comment above, but it has to be said that there’s a whole big chunk of world view built in to being able to say that. I’m not being a relativist–more saying that what is being disallowed in some circles may not even being understood in some circles.


    December 8, 2009 at 4:05 am

  13. I was just thinking that the last refuge of racism is in racial stereotypes, and I wonder if the same thing will happen with homophobia? Nowadays people can say “I’m not a racist,” meaning for instance that they don’t believe *all* black people are *inherently* lazy/dishonest/whatever, they just believe the majority of black people are that way (maybe for social or historical reasons, who knows). The point is that the stereotype justifies racist behavior, even if one doesn’t hold racist beliefs.

    I have very little direct experience with homophobia, so I might be completely wrong about this, but it seems like it is driven more by claims that homosexuality is fundamentally wrong, than by negative stereotypes about gay people. At least, the stereotypes don’t seem to so prevalent. But I wonder if the stereotypes would become more widespread in the future, to argue that even if gay marriage is legal, it’s not a desirable thing.


    December 12, 2009 at 3:58 pm

  14. I can understand your disappointment, but when I still lived in Indiana a few years ago, the legislature passed a law specifying “marriage = 1 man + 1 woman” when we *already had* a law prohibiting SSM. I guess they wanted to be extra sure no gay people ever wanted to live in Indiana.

    In 1985, people in my family were aghast that a distant cousin married a black man, and they had 2 adorable mixed-race children. I couldn’t believe that actually mattered to anybody, that’s how naive I was at 19. (And I’m from Chicago.) My husband grew up in central KY and his father told him if he ever even *dated* a black girl, not to bring her home to meet anyone. That was probably the same time period, mid-80s, but his family remains lily-white.


    December 14, 2009 at 9:04 pm

  15. Right on.


    December 29, 2009 at 1:54 am

  16. Off-topic: Saw this comment on a Ta-Nehesi Coates post which made me think of things you’ve written about your classes.

    (Rob Lll) “Your post reminded me a of a memorable incident from my college days. I had a survey course in 18th-century English literature in which we read lots of letters and diaries. At one point, one of my classmates complained that he “couldn’t relate” to anything he was reading. The professor just smiled and said “Well, isn’t that part of the point?”.


    February 25, 2010 at 8:03 am

  17. Win!


    June 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm

  18. Hi. Sure do miss the blog. :(


    June 10, 2014 at 7:16 pm

  19. Faith, hope, and love –
    the greatest of these is love:
    jump into faith…
    and you’ll see with love.
    Doesn’t matter if you don’t believe
    (what I write).
    God believes in you…
    and I believe in you.
    God bless you.

    -blessed holy socks

    April 13, 2015 at 11:25 am

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