Friday, June 20, 2003

The gays have won. The problem is no one will admit it.

The biggest and latest news is that Canada is poised to legalize same-sex marriage. But the signs of the gay victory have been all around for us for years.

The sitcom “Will and Grace” features openly gay characters who joke about their sex lives in ways that little more than a decade ago would have sparked complaints if uttered by heterosexuals, let alone homosexuals. Showtime’s “Queer as Folk” depicts random gay sex in precisely the same trivial terms that HBO’s “Sex in the City” depicts random heterosexual sex, which is to say with an air of unbridled celebration.

For the popular culture this signals the final stage of mainstreaming homosexuality. After repeated protests from gay groups in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hollywood stopped casting gays and lesbians as villains (think of “No Way Out” and “Basic Instinct”). By the end of the ‘90s, gays could be found all over movies and TV, but they were depicted as virtuous celibates. In movies like “Sling Blade,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and that execrable drek by Madonna “The Next Best Thing,” gays were cast as the only decent and honorable white men around.

My favorite example was the gay character from the Fox nighttime soap, “Melrose Place,” which ran for most of the 1990s. Every straight character in the show was having sex at the drop of a hat. Except, for the gay guy, Matt Fielding, played by Doug Savant.

Almost every episode featured the gay pretty boy lecturing his straight friends about their reckless promiscuity or bailing them out from their dysfunctional relationships while he remained as chaste as Greg Brady on “The Brady Bunch.”

But the gay victory doesn’t just manifest itself in the popular culture. The mainstream media has collectively decided to mainstream gays. The New York Times runs gay “marriage” announcements alongside straight ones in its wedding notices section (aka “the chick sports pages”).

On Father’s Day, CNN “Sunday Night” ran a long interview with the Asian-American gay actor B.D. Wong about his book Following Foo, which chronicles his efforts as a gay parent. Never raising a hint of controversy, let alone objection, to the issue of gay adoption, the interviewer closed the discussion by noting how much better off the world would be if all fathers were like Wong.

That may or may not be true, but such a comment would be unimaginable in a world where gays were on the defensive.

Indeed, at the same time as all of this, it is all but impossible to say a negative word about gays in public settings (unless you’re gay yourself). For example, in March, when Senator Rick Santorum echoed almost verbatim the language of a Supreme Court decision in an interview with an AP reporter, he was widely denounced as a “bigot” and “homophobe.”

Earlier this month, Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly tried to cancel a scheduled Gay Pride Month celebration at the Department of Justice for lesbian and gay employees. He failed. Despite pressure from social conservative activists, DOJ reversed course in the face of protests from gay groups and a sympathetic media (and, probably, pressure from the White House).

When the most famous and powerful member of the Religious Right in the U.S. government can’t stop a gay pride event in his own office building, held by his own employees, you know that social conservatives are losing this fight.

And now Canada is moving rapidly to legalize gay marriage from coast to coast above the 49th parallel. Gay activists, liberal legal scholars and sympathetic journalists (i.e. 95 percent of the media) say this will have huge repercussions in the United States for, among other reasons, American gays will marry in Canada and come home with an extra argument for why the U.S. government should honor their marriages.

There may be some wishful thinking in this analysis, but when so many elites offer wishful thinking it often translates into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s certainly true that Great Britain is not that far behind Canada on the issue of gay marriage, and the developments in Canada only promise to expedite that process.

In short, it’s a global trend and, like it or not, the traditionalists have lost. This isn’t a value judgment, it’s simply dispassionate analysis. Many conservatives refuse to accept this fact. But refusing to acknowledge a fact doesn’t make it any less real.

The challenge for social conservatives, it seems to me, is to make the best of what they consider a bad situation. But that would require making some painful capitulations -intellectual, moral, philosophical and financial. It would also require gay activists to understand that they’ve won and that the best course of action for them would be magnanimity in victory. Unfortunately, this is all unlikely since both camps are in denial about how far gays have come.

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