Same-sex marriage got a much-needed boost this month with former NBA basketball star Charles Barkley and movie star Brad Pitt offering their endorsements. While it is too soon to call this a trend among heterosexual men, all cultural tsunamis start with trendsetters such as Barkley and Pitt.
On Fox SportsNet’s "CMI: The Chris Meyers Interview," Barkley said, "I think if they want to get married, God bless them. Gay marriage is probably 1 percent of the population, so it’s not like it’s going to be an epidemic. Hey, trust me, I’m never going to kiss you and say, ‘Chris, you’re sexy.’"
What makes the former National Basketball Association MVP’s remarks special is that Barkley is the consummate tough guy. As a player, Barkley was as ferocious as he was fearless, even once tussling with giant Shaquille O’Neal, who is nearly a foot taller.
When a man of Barkley’s stature embraces same-sex marriage, it gives tacit permission to every other muscle-bound brawler to support fairness and equality. The message sent to playgrounds across America is clear and unmistakable: "You can have an inclusive view of marriage and still be the toughest, straightest, baddest man on the court or field."
What Barkley did for gay liberation may have the larger affect of liberating enlightened straight athletes who are encouraged to play the ridiculous game of degrading gay people to prove their manhood. Many of these men want to express their disgust with homophobia instead of homosexuals. However, they are afraid that by standing up for their gay friends, they will be labeled gay. Barkley has subtlety reversed this equation by showing that the new way to show one is completely comfortable with his sexuality is to support gay rights.
In an equally stunning revelation, matinee idol Brad Pitt took a bold stand to stop marriage segregation. In an interview with Esquire Magazine, Pitt declared that, "Angie [Angelina Jolie] and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able."
In their efforts to "save" marriage, conservatives are really undermining the institution. As gay people gain more acceptance each year, it may soon become socially unacceptable in some circles to partake in a ceremony associated with sexual orientation apartheid.
Of course, this raises the issue of whether it is appropriate for gay people to attend weddings. There are already some gays who refuse to go to these ceremonies as a way to protest and educate their families and friends on the discrimination they face.
Wrestling with such a momentous decision can be excruciating and create a moral dilemma. On one hand, there is a deep desire to honor the people we love on the most important day of their lives. Skipping such an event means missing a rite of passage and the opportunity for deep emotional bonding with the people we most care about.
Nonetheless, each time we attend heterosexual weddings, we may be perpetuating the ugliest of prejudices and participating in a form of Jim Crow. Skipping weddings is a way of showing extreme sacrifice and can offer a rare opportunity to make our friends and relatives reflect on the injustice and inequality faced by people they love and respect.
The vast majority of GLBT people still attend weddings and view them as apolitical events. However, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain such a position when high-profile heterosexuals are saying that they won’t wed until we can.
Although it sometimes appears that the marriage debate is a losing battle, if you look at the bigger picture we are actually winning. The GLBT community has spent the last several years highlighting our love and commitment and it is beginning to have an effect. Even men who define machismo, such as Pitt and Barkley, are recognizing the fundamental unfairness of denying gay people the freedom to marry.
The process of such enlightenment was vividly portrayed in a column by Russell Shaw on the Huffington Post website. In his column, he explains a powerful moment on an airplane when he encountered a gay couple:
"Below the frequent cloud cover, I imagined all those Red state voters, who sincerely believe that the God they prayed to earlier that day (Sunday) would be offended by sanctified unions such as those of the two men I me…And as night fell, and as children slept, I passed the two married gentlemen while on my way to the commode. They were asleep, too. Hand in hand. And it was then I – a straight-but-not-narrow male, realized I was looking at love – a love as real as any in a world with not enough love."
Each day, as more straight people find the concept of two men or women marrying less scary, the religious right should be more and more unsettled that their war against gay marriage is really one against love itself.
And that is one war they ultimately can’t win.