Valentine’s Day 2014 is shaping up to be one of the happiest for many gay and lesbian couples in America.
Abetted by the 2013 Supreme Court decision that repealed part of the Defense of Marriage Act, nine more states legalized same sex marriage in the past year, bringing the total to 17 states and D.C.
The movement has been buoyed by pop culture endorsements, most notably the award-winning megahit “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The song’s performance at the Grammy Awards was followed by the kind of joy- fully chaotic mass nuptials celebrated for years at Pride festivals, this time broadcast to a billion people. A glowing, specially deputized Queen Latifah presided over the ceremony.
HBO just debuted a new series called Looking. about gay friends and lovers. The commercial networks also are increasing their gay characters and storylines in comedies and dramas. How lovely that we’re not just lesbian psychos, gay serial killers and suicidal depressives anymore! Now we get to fall in love, get married, screw up our kids and break each other’s hearts just like straight people do!
Although political action is essential to expand marriage equality (which is still banned in 33 states, including Wisconsin), pop culture is playing a critical role in normalizing same-sex love. With same-sex marriage an increasing fact of life, the censoriousness that denied and distorted our emotional and sexual lives is giving way to greater openness and more complex portraits.
The most effective element in the political campaign and popular messaging is love. Emphasizing the love and commitment same-sex couples feel for each other is a powerful way to humanize and build empathy for people who have been perceived as different and transgressive, if not downright evil.
Power structures have not been kind to gay and trans- gender people. Historically, most religions declared us sinful, the law made us criminals and the medical establishment labeled us mentally ill. Rejection, imprisonment and torturous experiments to change our natures were once the norm.
Coming out, creating communities and organizing for change have destroyed these defamatory perceptions and cruel practices. Progress has been swift in comparison to other move- ments for social justice, some of which entailed centuries of struggle. We never would have advanced as we have without the movements for racial equality and women’s liberation lighting our way.
But our strongest motivation has been love. I’ve seen
it expressed continuously over the four decades I’ve been involved in Wisconsin’s LGBT community.
I’ve seen love in the commitment of many long-term couples to their partners and children in the absence of legal, social and financial supports for their families. I’ve seen love in the count- less unpaid hours activists have put into organizing support groups, Pride events and lobbying campaigns.
I’ve seen love in the extraordinary leadership LGBT people have displayed in responding to HIV/AIDS, raising money and awareness, and tending to the personal needs of those affected. I’ve seen love in the efforts to ease the bur- dens on LGBT youth, to protect them from hatred and rejection, and to guide them to a healthy adulthood.
It’s all about love. This Valentine’s Day, kiss your sweetie and give a collective hug to the community that helps sustain your love and your life.