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The Battle for Marriage in Imagination, Culture and Politics

Were we really surprised? President Obama announced, after years of opposing so-called “same sex marriage,” that he is now for it. “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he said.

That’s quite a change of heart, especially since the day before, so-called gay “marriage” was soundly rejected by the citizens of North Carolina, who voted 61 to 39 percent against gay “marriage.” Was the timing of his announcement a coincidence? I don’t think so. For one thing, the gay-rights movement was extremely up-set by the North Carolina verdict. And adding further pressure on the president, Vice President Joe Biden came out for gay “marriage” the week before.

Folks, this is pure politics. But what’s more important than the president’s pronouncement, was something Joe Biden said about gay “marriage” on “Meet the Press.”

According to Biden, the television show "'Will and Grace' probably did more to educate the American public [on homosexuality] than almost anything [else].”

Now, think about that statement. “Will and Grace” was the first show to feature a gay character who wasn’t a stereotype. The growing acceptance of same-sex “marriage” required a previous change in “the social culture.”

Now here’s why this is so important, as I said, politics is downstream from culture. Or, as Chuck Colson said, “Politics is nothing but a reflection of culture.” And Chuck was quite right — especially when it comes to sexuality and the family. When the Supreme Court of Hawaii created a right to same-sex marriage in 1993, the reaction was an overwhelming rejection at both the personal and political level. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed and signed into law with both Republican and Democratic support.

Today, this kind of response is simply unimaginable. Why? Because popular culture, including “Will and Grace,” has shaped the way Americans feel about same-sex relationships.

Note that I said “feel” and not “think.” Most people simply don’t reason their way through issues such as same-sex “marriage.” Their response isn’t the product of who has the best argument, but whether they feel “comfortable” or not with the proposed outcome.

And TV shows like “Will and Grace” raised their comfort level with regards to same-sex relationships. It didn’t matter that it was fiction or that the actor portraying Will wasn’t even gay. The show’s creators had succeeded in their goal of shaping the audience’s imagination. People saw Will or watched Ellen DeGeneres and their comfort level rose. They saw that these were folks “just like us.”

And of course, once they thought that, persuading increasing numbers of Americans that denying these folk the “same exact rights” as heterosexual couples simply wasn’t that difficult.

Now, while I lament the outcome, I respect the shrewdness of our opponents. While a television show should not the basis for overturning millennia of tradition and custom, we should never forget that contending for marriage and the sanctity of life requires an appeal to people’s imaginations.

The president’s announcement notwithstanding, we have “won” nearly all of the political battles concerning so-called same-sex “marriage.” But if we want to preserve marriage, we have to do a better job of contending for Truth upstream of politics: In the culture, and in people’s imaginations.

Publication date: May 14, 2012

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