Same-sex marriage, other cultural divides

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In 1967 the now classic film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” broached the subject of interracial marriage at a time when those unions were still outlawed in 17 states. We saw the well-meaning parents (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) struggle with their feelings as they met their daughter’s black fiancée (Sydney Poitier). His parents were equally aghast.
We’re still crossing that divide, and in the last 20 years, we’ve had another. That’s when the son comes home with his significant other, who turns out to be a guy. Or a friend the daughter keeps talking about is a girlfriend in the romantic sense.
Movies and TV regularly show us – and prepare the way – for acceptance. The aptly named “Modern Family,” the most popular sitcom on TV, features a gay couple.
Now the courts in New Mexico have taken a big step.
With opinions from two district judges, a number of New Mexicans can now enjoy (or not) an institution everybody else takes for granted: marriage. Notice that lightning bolts didn’t strike down the happy couples in the mass weddings. Maybe the Almighty wasn’t paying attention, or maybe, as some churches decided years ago, we’re all God’s creatures. Change is uncomfortable, but it may be that the court rulings mean a great deal for same-sex couples but won’t have a big impact on everyone else.
Let me give you an example. A woman I’ve known for years – I’ll call her Jo – has contracted Parkinson’s disease. Her female partner of many years cared for Jo as long as she could, but when it became physically impossible, Jo entered a nursing home. Legally, Jo’s two semi-responsible sons, who don’t even live here, have the last word regarding her care. Who do you suppose Jo would prefer to make these final decisions – her long-time partner or her sons?
The court decisions will produce paper shuffling related to insurance, guardianships, property, and other matters. There will be no surge of gay people because they’re already here. The decisions only recognized what already exists.
A handful of rural Republicans have filed suit, arguing that the Legislature should make this decision, but the subject has come up many times, and nothing happens.
What is this, really, but another of those urban-rural failures to see eye to eye. In court, Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties didn’t even bother to make an argument in the case. Neither did the Attorney General. But people in Farmington, Eunice and Alamogordo, among others, aren’t ready for same-sex marriage. Is it fair for the urban counties to impose their opinions on counties that aren’t ready? Is it fair for them to impose their opinions on the counties that are?
Unlike liquor ordinances, we can’t have a patchwork of marriage laws, and one side will win. There will be arguments before the state Supreme Court, but the trends favor acceptance.
And acceptance can pay off. One of Albuquerque’s big economic development prizes in 2001 was The Gap’s service center. The company’s site selection team asked a lot of questions related to Albuquerque’s attitudes toward gays. Economic developers, not sure what they were getting at, responded that Albuquerque was a pretty tolerant place. It turned out that the San Francisco-based company had gay employees and wanted to make sure they’d be welcome.
To the argument that same-sex marriage devalues the institution, I’d refer you to that marital authority George Strait: “All My Exes Live in Texas.” The institution is already frayed. But my husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year. To us, marriage is still sacred.
Social change is uncomfortable, even painful. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” will replay in more homes. Eventually the unusual will be more usual.