In the last twenty-five years, the notion of gay marriage has gone from being a fringe opinion to being part of the political mainstream across the world. Britain, America, Ireland, France, Spain, Brazil and South Africa are just some of the countries which allow same-sex couples to have the state recognise their life-long union to each other – though these countries are still very much in the minority. Yet Andrew Sullivan the British-born American who arguably did most to make the case for gay marriage has not really been recognised for his work.
In 1989, while working for The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan wrote a leading article in the magazine entitled “Here comes the Groom: the Case for Gay Marriage”, the front cover of the displaying a wedding cake with two male icing figures on top of it. In this essay he set out the reasons for why domestic partnerships for same-sex couples were not enough and the importance of marriage to the social fabric of society, while chastising the gay movement for ducking the issue “out of fear of division”. It was the first major essay in the United States arguing for the right of same-sex couples to marry. He most importantly set out why gay marriage would be good both for gays and lesbians and the rest of society:
“Gay marriage also places more responsibilities upon gays: It says for the first time that gay relationships are not better or worse than straight relationships, and that the same is expected of them… Like straight marriage, it would foster social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence.”
The odd thing about this is that whilst the fight for gay marriage is now associated with people from the liberal-left, Andrew Sullivan was and still is a Conservative and a Catholic and the people who most vociferously opposed his case for gay marriage were from the left. Sullivan says in one interview:
“I spent the first ten years battling the gay left. I was picketed, attacked; I was called the antichrist for proposing this.”
The reason for the liberationist left’s strong opposition towards gay marriage was because they saw it as buying into the heterosexual, mainstream way of life which they wanted to demolish, or, at the very least, keep themselves separate from. But Sullivan saw himself as fighting for the right of homosexuals to live a normal life and eventually the political mainstream started to take notice. His book on the politics of homosexuality Virtually Normal, with a particular focus on gay marriage, was published in 1995 to critical acclaim by many, the New York Times describing it as “A very valuable book that raises the issue of homosexuality in a new way”.
Sullivan had put gay marriage on the map. But for a long time the majority of Americans were still against it.
However, slowly but surely, public opinion started to change. Sullivan mentioned he was particularly helped by President George Bush declaring his support for a direct ban on gay marriage in 2006, by having marriage defined in the US Constitution as being exclusively a union between a man and a woman. This angered much of the gay community and convinced many of them to join the fight for gay marriage; as Sullivan said in the same interview, “George Bush… to actually write us out of equality in the constitution itself, which is an unprecedented attack upon a minority, galvanised everybody around this issue.”
In the 2000s support for gay marriage started to rise among the public in North and South America and certain parts of Europe, the Netherlands being the first to legalise gay marriage in 2001. Then more countries started to follow suit, including Britain in 2014, and this year, on the 26th June the Supreme Court in America ruled that gay marriage would be made legal in all 50 states of America. Having done hundreds of lectures, talk shows, articles and blog-posts for the cause, Sullivan’s efforts as a pioneering advocate for gay marriage had finally paid off.
Image: By Trey Ratcliff, http://www.stuckincustoms.com (http://flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/229794463/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons