For True Equality, Look North
On June 8, 2012, 12:19 PM by Savannah Cox
All of a sudden, Barack Obama is cool again. And a gay technicolor dreamboat. Following his interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts wherein he confessed that his “evolving” stance on gay marriage (which moves at an already glacial pace) meant that he presently believes gay people should be allowed to marry, the press went wild. Obama’s iconic red and blue posters were reformatted with over the top rainbows and halos, and the whooping of progressives was hard to contain. Finally, as it seemed to much of the nation’s more liberal ilk, America was back on track toward social equality. But if you think that Obama’s moment of candidness on morning TV news is really going to silence the shrill social conservative cant against gay marriage, think again.
While it is true that Obama did say he personally was in favor of gay marriage, he mentioned nothing about its legality at the federal level. Rather, he explicitly proposed the opposite—that the issue of gay marriage should still be left to individual states. Which is exactly how it is today. And how it was yesterday. And how it has been for over 15 years since the constitutionally-contentious Defense of Marriage Act federally defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. In other words, the only thing that has changed is one politician’s stance during election season—and that’s hardly uncommon.
Instead of believing the tired fable that the United States is the harbinger of liberty and justice for all, look at the facts. Same-sex marriage is carried out in ten countries, none of which include the allegedly progressive United States. Add to that list 23 more countries that allow same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions, and you still won’t find the US. More abundant than the Harvey Milks of yore are the fervent and fire-eyed Michele Bachmann types who actually equate gayness with Satan.
The cries against gay marriage are familiar: if two heathens are even given the option to manifest their love in the same ways two heterosexual non-heathens are, the traditional family will be broken. The number of marriages will increase, which will irrevocably damage and devalue this so-called sacred currency. Worst of all, God will be unhappy. Pay no mind to the fact that many of the countries that allow same-sex marriage or civil unions also have established (predominantly Christian) and/or state-run religions, or that you don’t read stories about an angry God smiting gay Canadian couples while on their honeymoon in Cabo San Lucas; things are different in America. The American God is more discerning. And for that matter, the American God is that much more damning.
So what will happen to a country that dares to give homosexuals the option of marrying within the hallowed halls of a church? Well, probably nothing except that all taxpayers will be able to enjoy equal treatment under the law and under God. The country in question is Denmark, whose parliament just voted (and by a large majority) to make it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages. This law, however, does not mean that parliament is stepping upon the church’s proverbial toes in terms of the church’s right to render its own theological reading. While the law maintains that individual priests may refuse to perform a marriage, it stipulates that the local bishop must find a replacement for the church in question.
A few notes on this “rotten” country: while it has an established state church (something that the United States would never allow), Danes are remarkably secular. For instance, in spite of the fact that Evangelical Lutheranism draws from the same Bible many Americans use to justify their stance against sexual identity and gender equality, in 1989 the Nordic nation became the first country in the world to allow civil partnerships between same-gender couples.
But that doesn’t mean that the country’s attitude toward homosexuals has historically been one of tolerance. When Axel Lundahl-Madsen helped found the first Danish gay-rights organization in 1948, the word “homosexual” was still very much taboo. As such, it dubbed itself the Association of ’48. It wasn’t until 1985 that it re-established itself as the Danish National Association of Gays and Lesbians, which largely came as a result of the 1980s AIDS epidemic. As the association’s spokesman Steffen Jensen said in an interview with Time, “AIDS did two things. First, it made conservatives think that it might be good to support stable, monogamous relationships among gays. And second, it brought homosexuals into the public sphere. For the first time, politicians were actually meeting gay men and lesbian women, and realizing they weren’t any different from straight people.”
Such quick transformations in social, political and religious thought haven’t come without road bumps, though. Hate crimes against gays in Denmark have risen within the past decade. And much like social conservatives in the United States, the far-right Danish People’s Party has been markedly vocal in their opposition to parliament’s new law, citing that the state can’t change the definition of something so fundamental.
Nevertheless, many homosexuals in Denmark greet this sweeping new legislation with exasperated sighs of relief. Says Stig Ellig, a former right-wing politician and homosexual planning on marrying his partner next week, “We have felt a little like we were living in the Middle Ages…[but] there are so many priests and bishops who are in favor of [gay marriage]. We have moved forward. It’s 2012.”
Ellig is right. It is the dawn of a new century and our thinking should evolve along with the scientific and technological advances that define it. But comparatively, if people hailing from an international leader in gay rights consider their own contemporary social policies medieval, what in God’s name does that make American ones? A good answer would be conservative, but a better one would be primordial.