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Then and Now

By Lavender December 19, 2008

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In June 1964, Life Magazine ran a groundbreaking article titled “Homosexuality in America,” with the cover blurb “The Secret World of the Homosexual Gets Bolder and Bolder.” Homosexuals, the piece went on to say, “are part of what they call the ‘gay world,’ which is actually a sad and often sordid world.”

Many still embrace that view of GLBT people, but no one can claim that homosexuals—GLBT individuals—still live in secret.

In 1964, Barack Obama was three years old; Loving vs. Virginia, the US Supreme Court decision that would allow mixed-race couples—like his parents—to marry was three years in the future; the Stonewall Riots five years away. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Harvey Milk were still alive.

Life continued, “But today, especially in big cities, homosexuals are discarding their furtive ways and openly admitting, even flaunting, their deviation.”

They were still nine years away from the 1973 removal of homosexuality per se from the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-II (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) classification of mental disorders.

Newsweek’s December 15 cover reads: “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” It’s no longer a question beyond the comprehension of many Americans today, other than in the minds of those hewing to DSM-II and inerrancy of the Bible.

Many of Newsweek writer Lisa Miller’s arguments have been used before, but seldom as cogently; in as public a venue; and not as a question of whether, but an argument for why.

Anticipating reader response, Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham wrote preemptively, “Religious conservatives will say that the liberal media are once again seeking to impose their values (or their “agenda,” a favorite term to describe the views of those who disagree with you) on a God-fearing nation. Let the letters and e-mails come. History and demographics are on the side of those who favor inclusion over exclusion.”

And the letters and e-mails have come, but none I have read (online) has explained how one Biblical injunction is valid, and another, if the Bible is to be taken literally, dismissible. Should slavery, stoning, and death for wearing the wrong clothes still be part of the true believer’s life?

Suddenly, on the cusp of a new presidential administration, when asked by an ABC interviewer, “Is it literally true—the Bible?” President George W. Bush answered, “You know. Probably not…No, I’m not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it….”

What? Has Bush undergone a sea change? A conversion? Or were his previous assertions the ones he knew would coalesce the religious right most effectively?

Our 1964 three-year-old is now the President-elect. He can’t change in a day the nation’s massive financial and social problems; the current denial of marriage to GLBT people; or the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But my own hope is that Obama will continue to be a man who thinks, who analyzes, and—most crucial—who listens.

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