Our either-or cultural template has come to an unattractive head during the recent Gay Moment, as these days are being dubbed.
Of course we've already named it. We can't just let an epic or a decade or a moment slip by without a title. A label. A category.
Labeling, in fact, is one of our favorite things in compulsive, either/or America. As in, you're either for us or against us. You're either from Mars or from Venus. You're either pro-gay marriage - or you're a right-wing, fascist, dogmatic homophobe.
Well, no, not really. Sometimes you're not a homophobe, but you may not be a homophile either. Sometimes you're not from Mars or from Venus. Sometimes you're from Earth, and, boy, is it lonely down here.
And, boy, things sure do change fast, as Dorothy once remarked to Toto. Notice how easily Oz slips into conversation these days?
In a matter of weeks - mere nanoseconds if you're a millennium gazer - we've passed from decriminalizing sodomy to ratifying a gay Episcopal bishop to seriously pondering homosexual marriage. Heterosexual marriage isn't doing so well, after all, so what's the big deal?
Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote as much Sunday, citing with barely concealed hostility all things wrong with heterosexual unions - from Ben Franklin's common-law marriage to Tracy 'n' Hepburn's illicit affair to the new movie "American Wedding," featuring a marriage proposal with dropped trousers and a wedding cake adorned with pubic hair.
I'd say that settles it. Let the homosexual weddings begin!
Or not. In any case, dredging up the most extreme failings and ludicrous fictional permutations of a long-honored institution may not be the best argument for indictment. If perfection is our standard, we may as well dismantle all our laws and institutions. We could start with traffic lights. Given the number of people who run them, why not eliminate them altogether?
The either/or notion, meanwhile, so polarizes rational discussion that Americans are cowed into obedient silence. I'm familiar with the inclination, having been on the receiving end of various fatwas for criticizing individuals who identify with a disenfranchised group. That would include nearly everyone except white heterosexual males, about which one can say anything with impunity.
If you criticize a person who happens to be black, for example, you're automatically a "racist." A black columnist once told me he wanted to write about the difficulties facing adolescent white boys but felt it might be taken the wrong way. Too bad. I wanted to read it.
Presidential hopeful Al Sharpton recently played the race card when he claimed that the media are ignoring him because he's black, ergo, the media are racist. No, the chorus might say were the chorus not so intimidated by the charge, the media are ignoring Sharpton because he can't be taken seriously.
If you suggest as President Bush did - in the most temperate way possible - that marriage is intended for a man and a woman in order to procreate and raise children, you're quickly labeled homophobic. The best "gay" counterargument is to point out that plenty of heterosexual couples, such as Sen. John Kerry, are in post-childbearing marriages.
And so what? Plenty of couples are also infertile. Lots are miserable. But those facts hardly alter the obvious biological design or necessitate alteration of societal structures organized to nurture the ideal.
Let's ignore God (that should be easy enough), and all our gay friends and relatives for just a minute (not so easy), and try to be objective. Is gay marriage constructive? Is it useful to society? Does it solve any problem that can't be solved any other way? I'm unconvinced by arguments favoring holy matrimony for homosexuals when civil remedies are - or can be made - available.
It seems unnecessary, meanwhile, to justify and explain all the reasons why marriage between a man and a woman is beneficial and necessary to civilization. It seems equally unnecessary to jettison our most fundamental social institution in order to accommodate and sanction marriage between two men or two women. As Jonah Goldberg wrote, "In a sane world there would be no need for a 'ban' on gay marriage because marriage means the union between a man and a woman."
Whatever we decide - and gay marriage may win the day - people are not wrong to be concerned. And it is not homophobic to suggest that we may have lost our minds.