by George Takei (Thursday June 27) Washington Post Op-Ed
George Takei, an actor and activist, played Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek” and is the author of “Oh Myyy!: There Goes the Internet.” Follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeTakei.
Forty-four years nearly to the day after drag queens stood their ground against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, sparking rioting in New York City and marking the beginning of America’s gay rights movement, our nation’s highest court at last held that a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Amazingly, since Stonewall, the question of LGBT rights has evolved from whether homosexuals should have any place in our society to whether gay and lesbian couples should be accorded equal marital stature.
Whenever one group discriminates against another — keeping its members out of a club, a public facility or an institution — it often boils down to a visceral, negative response to something unfamiliar. I call this the “ick.” Indeed, the “ick” is often at the base of the politics of exclusion. Just this March, for example, a young woman at an anti-same-sex-marriage rally in Washington was asked to write down, in her own words, why she was there. Her answer: “I can’t see myself being with a woman. Eww.”
Frankly, as a gay man, I can’t see myself being with one, either. But it’s usually not gays who write the laws. If this woman were in Congress, her personal discomfort might infect her thinking — and her lawmaking. Gays kissing? Ick.
The Supreme Court may be the ultimate interpreter of the rules, but it is still the court of public opinion that matters. And public opinion has shifted — 51 percent of Americans now favor same-sex marriage, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, and 42 percent oppose it. Reflecting this slim majority, Wednesday’s 5 to 4 ruling made clear that “ick” is not a proper basis for constitutional jurisprudence. Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his opinion, warned against this specifically, noting that when “determining whether a law is motived by an improper animus . . . ‘[d]iscriminations of an unusual character’ especially require careful consideration.” Kennedy was not prepared to allow the “ick” to remain law, knowing that the result is often embarrassing when judged by history.
For more than 70 years, I’ve watched the “ick” infect American life in a variety of ways and concluded that it’s little more than a function of unfamiliarity. Once upon a time, you never saw two men kissing — for that, you’d have to visit an adult video store.
Even I was taken aback the first time I saw two men being affectionate in public. The “ick” runs deep, instilling unease even in those for whom an act is natural. When I was a child, I knew that my sexuality was not something I could reveal to others. Later, as a young actor, I knew I could not be open about it without serious consequences for my career. It wasn’t until 2005 — when I was in my late 60s — that I came out.
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