Something is afoot in our culture when the opponents of gay marriage find themselves forced to fall back on the argument that they are the truly tolerant ones. The San Diego Union-Tribune has side-by-side YES/NO guest editorials today on Proposition 8, the attempt to roll back the right to same-sex matrimony established by the California Supreme Court earlier this year.
Steven D. Smith, a local law school professor writing for the anti-gay marriage position, acknowledges that 'gays and lesbians are human beings as fully citizens and as equal in dignity and worth as their straight neighbors.' Not only that, says Smith, they 'have often been the victims of senseless prejudice, discrimination and violence.'
Whoa, this is the anti-gay column!? Not quite the tone we got used to hearing since the 1980s when the Reagan revolution brought out the slashing attacks on 'perverts, cross-dressers and sickos' who deserved to get AIDS and die accompanied by lurid film footage from San Francisco gay pride marches or investigative reports on S&M clubs.
This galloping back-pedal from anything associated with Republicans or George Bush makes it easy to forget how viciously partisan and hateful their tenure in power has been. No wonder Obama's message of unity and fair-dealing, which sounded so lame and defeatist in the John Kerry version four years ago or throughout the Clinton years for that matter, now resonates so strongly.
However, the shift remains hard to acknowledge especially among its immediate beneficiaries. I am attending a professional conference this week and last night at a delightful dinner with colleagues and former classmates I took the opportunity to ask everyone around the table who is going to win on November 4 and by how much. By the way, I did this last year at Thanksgiving and found that not one single person (out of 20) felt the national pulse accurately enough to guess that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee.
I think last night's unscientific poll results are equally off base. Of the eight people present two were convinced that McCain will win (one by fraud), four crossed their fingers nervously and said Obama would pull it out by a hair, one gave him a more comfortable margin of five points and only one said it would be a cakewalk with a margin of nine.
That last opinion is mine. I have never been more convinced that the electorate is about to sweep away the past 30 years in a way that may well stun all of us. Not one of the pillars of the Republican worldview remains fully intact. Abortion is no longer a deal-breaker for Democratic candidates given the many other pressing issues on people's minds. Gay marriage is a total non-starter. National security has been neutralized by Republican incompetence and lies. Even the lower-taxes diatribe has little appeal after Bush's role in presiding over a ballooning federal deficit and creeping economic collapse.
Our society urgently needs and wants something brand new, and luckily our system is viable enough to make way for it. That change is almost guaranteed to be a disappointment in some ways, but next Tuesday's statement of the will of the people most definitely will not.