Sunday night at the Grammy’s, as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed their hit “Same Love,” a pop song that calls for LGBT rights, pop icon Queen Latifah married, live on national television, over 30 couples, comprised both heterosexual couples and homosexual couples. The performance received a standing ovation from the audience.
The popularity of the song “Same Love” and the execution of this stunt on one of the most popular awards shows impart a clear message—we (the artists and performers) recognize homosexuality as totally normal, and we expect you (the consumer) to also. They are trying to make opposition to homosexual marriage seem radical and fringe. If a top-ten song so explicitly endorses gay rights, clearly that must be the predominate opinion (they are trying to claim). We also see this phenomenon in the popularity of “Modern Family,” a television show featuring a homosexual couple in the context of a classic American family structure. Countless other pop culture mediums are adopting gay characters into their plots. Throughout these various medium the message remains the same—homosexuality is totally normal.
Unfortunately, many Americans still do oppose gay rights, while gay children, teens, and even adults still suffer from bullying, harassment, depression, and suicide. However, as more and more states are legalizing gay marriage, the Supreme Court has overturned DOMA, the President has endorsed gay marriage, and culture is becoming more and more accepting of new family structures, it has become increasingly clear that it is only a matter of a time, and not that much time, until full gay rights are universal in America.
In New York City, where I live, this is certainly already the case. Though there are isolated anti-gay incidents, homosexuality is considered normal in City culture. In fact, New York City came very close to having a lesbian mayor (Christine Quinn), had she not be unseated by an even more liberal politician (Bill deBlasio). This past summer I worked at a summer program for children based in the metropolitan area where a few of the children had “two dads” or “two moms.” No one batted an eyelash.
This past December Tom Daley, a popular British Olympic bronze-medal diver and reality show host, made a YouTube video in which he told the public that he is dating another male, though qualifying that he “of course still fancies girls.” Interestingly, he prefaced his admission by stating that “in an ideal world I wouldn’t be doing this video, because it shouldn’t matter.” I feel like that sums up the ultimate goal of the gay rights movement—to make homosexual relationships so normal that it is no longer a topic of interest. That we can reach a point where homosexuals don’t have to come out of the proverbial gay closet because nobody will care who anybody else is dating; that we can reach an almost post-sexual orientation society, where we are not confided to the labels of being either “homosexual” or “heterosexual”. Whether or not you or I agree with this model is irrelevant—this seems to be where society is heading. A post-sexual orientation society is far off, I admit, but seems to be on the foreseeable horizon.
I find this interesting because in the Orthodox world I feel/fear that we are becoming two steps behind the conversation occurring in society at large. While we are now just opening up the conversation about tolerance of homosexuals, society is rapidly coming to full normalization of gay rights (the step after tolerance), and is getting ready to take the next step in discarding these terms altogether. Thankfully, it is now becoming commonplace in many Modern Orthodox communities to tolerate single gays in the community. It has become accepted that there are openly gay students in Yeshiva University, Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship. However, only one Orthodox rabbi, Steven Greenberg, has argued for gay marriage rights, and he has been dismissed as fringe and totally outside the fold.
I am not taking a position on the issue of gay marriage rights in Orthodoxy right now. The Halachik (legal) and Hashkafic (sociological) ramifications are huge and not the topic of this article. However, I think it is crucially important that even if none of our opinions or stances change that the Orthodox community remains fully cognizant of where we are in relation to society at large. I fear that too many Orthodox rabbis and leaders still think that tolerance of gays is an issue in society, unaware of the fact that the hurdle of gay rights, the step beyond tolerance, will soon be surpassed.
It is impossible for a community to remain part of the world yet so far removed from it. The Ultra-Orthodox have found their answer—distance from the world. For the rest of the Orthodox world, however, we have no choice but to grapple with the issues in society at large. Having a conversation that is two steps behind society runs the risk of alienating the youth and creating a dissonance that may be too large to handle. If we are going to encourage our children to engage with their social milieu we have to be at society’s level in terms of conversation. We don’t have to accept everything, we can say no, but the conversation needs to be occurring. On the issue of homosexuality and Orthodoxy it is time we put to rest the tolerance conversation and take a real look at the direction society is headed in terms of rights and beyond, and figure out how we can grapple with these issue from the lens of Torah.