Thursday, March 28, 2013

All Sex, All the Time

That appears to to be the motto of our local (and very fine) NPR station.  For days now, we have turned it on several times each day, as usual.  And every single time, without fail, we have been greeted by coverage of the two gay-marriage cases heard this week by the Supreme Court.  If there has been any further action on, say, Syria or the sequestration, on withdrawal from Afghanistan or the quashed candidacy of Ashley Judd, we have not heard it from WNYC-FM.

It's like being at an ELCA synod assembly in the years between 1990 and 2009.  And perhaps that's why we can't work up more passion for the news coverage.

These cases before the Supremes are indeed important.  In an immediate, practical sense, a re-evaluation of DOMA would have a dramatic impact upon the lives of many Americans.  There is money at stake, in the form of federal benefits, as well as the more fundamental question of human dignity.

Beyond that, there is the striking question of states' rights.  A defeat for DOMA, if it that act were reckoned to be a federal intrusion upon the prerogatives of the states, would be cold comfort for the supporters of gay marriage if it translated into stronger support for laws like Proposition 8.

These are important questions, and the answers that the justices offer will make a lasting difference.


Honestly, it won't be that lasting.  The Supremes may uphold DOMA, and it will still be repealed within a decade.  if you don't believe us, just ask Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill, only the most recent legislators to announce their support for same-sex marriage.  If the Supremes uphold Prop 8, there will be a flood of similar state legislation over the next ten years.  Most will last for a decade or so before it is overturned.

Within a few years -- possibly a very few -- the current situation will be reversed.  Today, nine states permit same-sex marriage and the rest either do not recognize it or prohibit it outright.  But public sentiment is now changing at a geometric pace, and it is all but certain that, soon enough, the states which prohibit same-sex marriage will be a small circle of holdouts.

We are as certain of this as we can be of anything in the realm of politics.  Viewed over the medium term, near-universal acceptance of same-sex marriage seems far more likely than, say, access to legal abortion.

Rhetoricians speak of prolepsis, the confident assertion of something not yet true.  ("I am a dead man," says a man who knows he will die.)  It is hard, right now, to keep from speaking proleptically of the movement toward same-sex marriage marriages.  Although they are not yet lawful in most of the country, there eventual lawfulness seems assured, no matter what the Supreme Court does.  Like laws against miscengenation or sodomy, the prohibitions on same-sex marriage are relics of another time -- even though that time is now.

And so, emotionally at least, we find ourselves moving on.  We are trying to think about the pastoral questions, of course.  Even among the most comparatively progressive church bodies, many congregations -- probably most -- are well behind the curve.  A generation of pastors will spend much of its time coaxing church members toward the future; it may fail, as after all these years racial integration has largely failed in many church bodies, preserved at best as well-intentioned tokenism.  Once in a while, pastors will summon a bit of their old fire, as we still do for racial inclusion or the weekly Eucharist.  But mostly the old guys, who will look like relics to younger colleagues already fighting the next battle.

The battle over homosexuality which began a century ago with Emma Goldman's pro-gay speeches, which was pushed forward by the Nazi extermination of gay people and which burst into the American public consciousness with Stonewall and Anita Bryant, is at last in its final stages.  It isn't over, in a decisive sense, any more than the Voting Rights Act decisively ended racism or even racial discrimination at the polls.  But the tide is turning, even as we speak.

1 comment:

Mark Christianson said...

The tide has certainly turned. Questions of gay and lesbian discrimination, especially marriage equality, have come a long ways in an extraordinarily short time. I am hopeful (but not certain) that my state may see marriage equality soon. There is a possibility, although a small one, that we might even see it nationally by mid-sumer. But on the whole, I'm a bit less sanguine than your post seems to be.

How long DOMA might last if the Supreme Court does not overturn it depends a great deal on what happens in party and electoral politics. It won't be going away through non-judicial means before 2015, that's for sure, and it would likely be longer than that.

If the courts uphold California's Prop 8, there will not be a flood of similar legislation across the country, as (with maybe a couple of exceptions) any state where such legislation is politically feasible already has it. It's likely that, regardless of what the court does, a few of those constitutional provisions would be repealed in the next few years. But many of them will have real staying power if left on their own, even if some deep red states find majority support for marriage equality in the next decade. There have been polls that suggest that without the Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, some state might still have or only fairly recently repealed their anti-messegination laws. There are certainly a number of states where sodomy laws would not be repealed or overturned by state courts today if the matter were left entirely to the states. A number of those anti-marriage amendments will stick to their states for decades to come. It will take the Supreme Court to rule on this, If not with the Prop. 8 case then on some future case, or many decades to pass.

Still, there is hope to be had and good to be seen. Remarkable ground has been won. There is hope in my own state, especially after anti-gay marriage amendments were finally turned back here last fall. And it is probably within a decade (or a little more) that marriage equality will be nation wide or available in a majority of states. Maybe sooner.