Normality is a fragile concept, and that observation is nowhere more true than in sexual matters. In making that point, I am not questioning the existence of absolute moral standards—quite the contrary. Rather, I am suggesting that, once a society loses its religious moorings, it drifts into startling novelties with a haste even more vertiginous than we might expect. Not only do beliefs and mores change very rapidly, but new ideas establish themselves so totally that it becomes almost impossible to remember the old world. To paraphrase Mark Twain, a novelty will fly around the whole world while tradition is getting her boots on.
Same-sex “marriage” is a case in point. Today, a slim majority of Americans still oppose this radical innovation, but conservative views are losing support fast, as acceptance of same-sex unions is increasingly seen as a marker of civilized tolerance. Mass media commonly present opponents as cranky, repressive, and (probably) self-loathing homosexuals themselves. But how swiftly has such a situation come into existence! It would be interesting to trace changing attitudes through surveys and opinion polls, but virtually no such surveys exist before the year 2000 or so. The question simply was not asked, because the whole idea of “gay marriage” was considered so fringe and outlandish that it was nowhere near the public agenda. When in the 1990’s the ultraliberal Doonesbury cartoon ran a gay-marriage sequence, the shocking nature of the theme was still evident. Even veteran radical character the Rev. Scott Sloan refused to conduct the ceremony, out of a very traditional fear of hellfire.
Then, more or less overnight, the world changed, as state courts started deciding in favor of gay unions. When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced its Goodridge decision in 2003, a social revolution began in earnest. All the ensuing debate, with all the transformation of attitudes, has taken just eight years. Based on that experience, it would take a foolhardy soul to declare that some social change is unthinkable or too extreme to be considered. Really? Just come back next decade.
It would be useful to have some warning of what’s next on the revolutionary agenda, to provide just a little time to organize a thoughtful response, without being blindsided again. Based on trends in Europe, which is some five or ten years ahead of us in such matters, the next culture war in this country is clearly going to involve removing any preference for heterosexual couples over homosexual in matters of parenting and childrearing.
With same-sex marriage now firmly established (and it is), the inevitable next phase will be to ask just why such loving couples cannot have and rear children on exactly the same terms as their heterosexual counterparts. Of course, the idea of same-sex couples rearing children is anything but new in this country. Even gay adoption already exists, but it receives strikingly little public attention because its advocates realize the scale of a potential backlash if the practice were better known. But stand by for a revolution.
All of which brings me to British singer and gay activist Elton John. In 2005 he formed a civil partnership under English law with David Furnish, and last Christmas, the happy couple had a baby named Zachary. Well, to be precise, they purchased the surrogate services of a California woman who bore the child, who was reportedly timed for a Christmas arrival. But according to the British media, across the whole political spectrum, Elton and David were blessed with the arrival of their baby, with no female involved, and any suggestion to the contrary would have been viewed as gross bigotry. This was of course the stance of the leftist Guardian (“Elton John and David Furnish have Christmas baby”) and Independent (“Sir Elton John becomes a father”), but strikingly, this was also the tone of the conservative Daily Telegraph (“Elton John and David Furnish become parents”). Biology be damned. Never once in the coverage was heard a discouraging word about gay parenting or adoption, no qualms even about the extraordinarily delicate issues surrounding surrogacy, even though it is heavily restricted in Britain. Unto them a child was born.
Of course, celebrities live in a galaxy of their own, but however horrible the concept may be, they have a profound influence on mainstream social attitudes. In ten years, it will be absolutely unacceptable to suggest that the adopted baby of a same-sex couple is not “their child” to precisely the same degree as the biological offspring of a heterosexual couple. Language and, presumably, legalities will change accordingly.
Indeed, British adoption panels are already excluding anyone whose religious beliefs prevent them from approving giving children to same-sex couples. No bigots need apply.