By Anastasia S.
The latest conversation presented by the Forum on Law, Culture and Society focused on Same-Sex Marriage, the change in public opinion regarding marriage equality, and how law and culture has reflected that change. Insight was given by: Frank Bruni – Op-Ed Columnist of the New York Times; Max Mutchnick — Emmy-winning Producer and Co-creator of Will & Grace; and Christine Quinn — Speaker of the New York City Council.
One of the core questions of the conversation was whether television shows and other media have contributed to the shift in the public’s stance on same-sex marriage or if the change would have happened anyway. A few scenes from Will & Grace were screened, including a scene where Will “comes out” to Grace. Max Mutchnick emphasized that while Will & Grace was not meant to be a political crusade of any kind, he wanted people to be able to watch the show and have an experience that is truly theirs – a quality that is unique to television shows and other media that are broadcasted directly into the home.
Another core question of the discussion was why marriage is so important – why the title of marriage is so sought after. Here, Christine Quinn offered some insight by stating that although getting the same rights without the title is beneficial, a marriage is something that cannot be replaced by anything else: a marriage is a “marker in one’s life,” a happy event deserving of celebration. She also elaborated by stating that there are few things in society that are as clear and central as marriage. Frank Bruni also pointed out marriage is important because it goes directly to the core of what makes gay people different. Why should a gay couple be denied benefits available to straight couples if they are in the same type of committed relationship? Perhaps culture is a driving factor in this divergence? Perhaps, as Max Mutchnick stated, “people who don’t like homosexuals just don’t know them.”
The consensus seemed to be that society has spoken and its verdict is acceptance rather than homophobia; that there is now a pushback against intolerance instead of considering both sides of this argument. However, this verdict of acceptance has not always been the status quo. Christine Quinn pointed out that things have changed not just because time has passed, but because people have collectively and individually used the time to make things different – that everyone made the change happen, it did not happen on its own. Frank Bruni added that the AIDS community has played a transformative role and accelerated the process of gay acceptance by not staying in the shadows.
There was a short examination of Obama’s stance on marriage equality and how that stance has evolved. Frank Bruni pointed out that while justice should not change when crossing state lines, if our president was to decree same-sex marriage, it would not go over well. The consensus seemed to be that laws should reflect changing public opinion, instead of the other way around.
A question at the end of the conversation sought to dig into a very difficult issue: how should sex education be integrated to include same-sex relationships. Christine Quinn posited that we should not make it a big deal – we did not have to integrate heterosexual relationships so the curriculum should be inclusive. Max Mutchnick added that this will be a very difficult area because we are not socialized to it.
It is certainly true that over the last few years, the public’s stance on marriage equality has changed, at least in New York. However, it is hard to pinpoint the catalyst of that change, and it remains to be seen whether the legislatures of other states will reflect a potential changing or not changing of public opinion.