Thursday, May 10, 2012

On the Evolution of Views

Yesterday was a very big day for the United States (really, for the whole world) and for anyone who really cares about civil liberties. President Obama officially proclaimed that he was supportive of "Same Sex Marriages". It doesn't mean a whole lot legally just yet; these marriages still must be sanctioned (or not) on a state-by-state basis and currently there are only 6 states that recognize them. But it's still a very important step in the never-ending crusade for equal rights for all citizens.

A lot of people have written or said, "it's about time" in relation to this announcement by President Obama. I think, however, they are missing the point here. Anyone can simply announce that they are in favour of something that represents a paradigm shift in cultural beliefs. Just as easily, that same person could announce that they are against the change (well, to be fair, I suppose being "against" a radical change would actually be easier). But those are just words. For true change to be effected, people need to evolve in their beliefs, something the president himself alluded to in his remarks yesterday:
"I have to tell you," the president said, "that I've been going through an evolution on this issue....I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient...I was sensitive to the fact that -- for a lot of people -- that the word marriage is something that provokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs."
I understand exactly what the president was saying because you can count me among the people whose views have "evolved" over the years. Like the president, I have been a champion of "equal rights" for all including the right for any two loving, committed people to form a legal union. But I used to stop short of using the word "marriage". I don't think, in my case, it was any particular holdover from religious persuasions of my childhood (for I am now an atheist); rather, I think I was being sensitive to the firmly-held beliefs of so many people that the word "marriage" meant one thing and one thing only: the union of a man and a woman. I think I also railed against the idea from a semantic or logophilic point of view; to whit: that the word has always stood for one thing and should not simply be usurped. My feeling was that perhaps present-day society should invent a new word to describe all legal unions no matter whom they involve and just leave "marriage" alone.

Then I started to realize I was standing with the people who were upset because the idea of "same-sex marriages" was an affront to the "sanctity" of marriage. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized how ridiculous it was. The "sanctity" of marriage? In this day and age? Give me a break. Reed Gusciora, the only openly-gay member of the New Jersey state legislature, put it rather succinctly:
"Why is it that the voters of North Carolina voted to ban gay marriage but loved Newt Gingrich who had three wives, all of them women?"
Why, indeed. Or why is it that Kim Khardashian's ongoing divorce, which has lasted longer than her 72-day marriage, should continue to be in the news but not as any kind of "scandal"? And then there's Larry King, currently on his eighth wife? How is that in any way indicative of the "sanctity" of marriage?

I attended a same-sex wedding in 2006 that was kind of a big deal. It was a wonderful ceremony; I even jumped at the chance to sing "with the choir" for the event. (It turned out, however, that the "choir" was made up of whomever volunteered to perform that day; the running gag was that the choir was nearly 100% "straight" at a gay wedding.) Perhaps this started my journey of evolution but whatever the catalyst was, I didn't arrive at my current position lightly. And that current position is: if, in the state that the world is in currently, any two people can still love each other fiercely enough that they want to dedicate their lives to each other, then not only should it be allowed but it must be allowed - and encouraged.

The fact that I took a while in my own "evolution" has made it a bit easier for me to try to be sensitive to those that are still on their own journey. For example, in this piece in the National Post the author suggests that, "there is nothing stopping them from relocating to the states that have laws more to their liking. Yes, it’s inconvenient to move — but it’s certainly the simpler option." For her, "those people" have gained enough ground; now it's time to stop being so demanding and just go where they're "welcome". Not a stance against same-sex marriage, per se; just not a very enlightened position. That's ok, maybe she'll get there. It does take time.

However, I find now I have even less patience than ever before for those who are clearly not interested in even contemplating the shifting state of the cultural landscape. In this terrific and thoughtful article in The Grid, Edward Keenan (perhaps my favourite journalist working in Toronto today) contrasted the ability of President Obama to give thought to weighty matters and allow his views to evolve with the incredibly intractable stances of our local political leaders such as Tim Hudak and Rob Ford. I am not going to rehash much of what Edward said here in this post; please have a look at his original article if you get the chance.

The bigger problem for me, regarding Rob Ford, is that the mayor of the largest city in the country, fifth-largest in North America, home to one of the world's biggest LGBT communities and Pride Week celebrations, is showing himself to be a homophobe. It's one thing to continually refuse to attend the parade itself; it's quite another to weasel out of an event that takes place 6 weeks earlier and virtually right outside of his office door. The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (or "IDAHO") is on May 17 and a flag-raising will take place that day. Not in favour of same-sex marriage. Not even in favour of gay rights. Against homophobia. And Mayor Ford refuses to attend. I don't see how any other conclusion can now be drawn than the obvious one: Mayor Ford is himself a homophobe. And if his history has taught us anything, it's that this is a man who will likely never "evolve".

It's shameful, of course, for him to take this stance in his current position. It's embarrassing for the city he is supposed to represent and it's just another distraction from the horrible job he is actually doing as mayor. But the bottom line is: he won't be missed. Brian Burke will be at the flag-raising on May 17 and he is enough of an attention-grabber in his own right. I will also be there; I'll report back on it afterwards.

I don't find it the least bit ironic that in the week that we lost Maurice Sendak -- who made a lifetime commitment not only to challenge the way we look at childhood and children's stories but also to his partner Eugene Glynn whom he was not only unable to marry but was also a secret he felt compelled to keep from his parents -- the president of the United States "came out" with such a brave and important declaration. Many will feel it was a matter of political expedience, as Mitt Romney declared the very same day that he believes "marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman"; I prefer to think of it as uplifting and a big step forward for the North American psyche.


  1. Obviously this is a timely commentary. Equality, in my opinion, is all about dropping labels and treating EVERYONE respectfully and fairly.

    1. I agree. Humans will likely always have their prejudices, but it's the acting on them out of hatred that diminishes all of us, in my opinion.


I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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