Last night, Rachel Maddow played an audio tape from yesterday’s Supreme Court hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act. On the tape, Chief Justice Roberts and an attorney advocating for marriage equality argued over the reason behind the “sea change” in the American public’s attitude toward same-sex marriage. Roberts thought the increasing social acceptance of same-sex marriage had been driven by effective publicity on the part of pro-LGBT activists; the attorney, Roberta Kaplan, argued that straight people are simply more aware of the presence of gay people, and that most of us now admit we count them among our co-workers, friends, and relatives.
I’m sure it’s a combination of both, but I was more interested in Roberts’ and Kaplan’s use of the phrase “sea change.” How would Shakespeare have reacted if someone in 1610 told him a phrase he’d just written into a play would still be the phrase of choice more than 500 years later, whenever serious people discuss serious change?
Not everyone knows the reference. It’s from Ariel’s song in The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2:
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Talk about making a lasting impact on the English language … you rock, Bill Shakespeare!
By the way, today’s bag is … wait for it … coral.
My own attitudes have undergone a sea change, a gradual process lasting decades. When I was in junior high and first became aware that some men liked to have sex with other men, I was repulsed by the very idea. Then, in my senior year of high school, I met a gay couple, friends of a girl I was dating. They were … okay. A couple of years later, married now to Donna, one of our woman friends told us she was in a lesbian relationship, and later introduced us to her lover. They were okay too. We slowly became aware. The repulsion went away.
I’m proud of my Air Force career but less proud of the Air Force’s historical intolerance of gay men and women. During my time in uniform I worked with several closeted gays and never felt any impulse to rat them out. Nor did most of my fellow officers. It was the evangelical Christian clique that drove the military’s homosexual witch hunts, and we didn’t want to have anything to do with that lot.
Admittedly, that’s not much of a resistance. I won’t claim I fought against the witch hunts or spoke up for the persecuted, because frankly it would have meant the end of a career I loved, but I never participated. In 1991 I was president of a discharge board tasked to determine whether a gay sergeant, the victim of yet another witch hunt, should receive a dishonorable or general discharge. I asked the JAG why we couldn’t give him an honorable discharge, and when the JAG grudgingly admitted we could, convinced the other two board members to go along with me. The man’s life, at that point, was a smoking crater … what would have been the point of making that crater deeper, sabotaging whatever chance he had of making a new life on the outside? I wish I could have seen then that a day would come when the sergeant’s sexual preferences would not have mattered. I hope that man (whose name I’ve forgotten, shame on me) has a good life today.
Marriage equality? Sure. Why the hell shouldn’t same-sex couples have the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples? Why the hell would any court allow religious bigots to blur the line of separation between church and state? No reason I can think of. Even if the Supreme Court makes a limited ruling in the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases before it, one that essentially changes nothing, the day is coming. You can’t sweep back the sea.
© 2013, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.