Government & Politics
 

Kiss prejudices goodbye

It may seem counterintuitive, but a massive progressive political trend seems to be lurking underneath Tuesday’s Republican electoral landslide.

National attitudes are shifting on a particular set of issues, representing a long-term trend that will continue for generations. This encouraging trend will reach a milestone in the coming months, and this milestone may coincide with the “Kiss Cam” barrier being broken at a major sporting event in New Orleans.

What the hell am I talking about?

I’m talking about a same-sex smooch featured on the Hornets jumbotron. I’m talking about a packed Superdome applauding while a gay couple kisses on gigantic video screens. I’m talking about New Orleans being the first city to break the “Kiss Cam” barrier in a year when national attitudes are shifting in favor of major lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality issues.

No, I’ve not gone delusional. Just stay with me for a minute, and I’ll take you through this.

You’re familiar with the Kiss Cam, right? During a timeout at sporting events, TV cameras focus on couples in the stands, and they are shown on video screens while everyone else encourages them to kiss. Some do, some don’t. Some kisses are brief, others are long. The crowd cheers success, and boos failure.

The Kiss Cam is silly, but appealing – especially at Saints games. It’s far more intriguing than the other timeout entertainments, like the cartoon boat race or the game of French fry “razzle-dazzle.” I’m always wondering how the Kiss Cam couples are selected, and whether we’ll see an embarrassing refusal to lock lips. What if a platonic couple is shown, or two strangers? And has anyone ever just taken one for the team, as it were, to satisfy the yelling crowd?

But until recently, I never wondered why the Kiss Cam only featured heterosexual couples.

So I did a little research, and found that this summer has been full of Kiss Cam controversy as summarized in this Stltoday.com article:

The Kiss Cam feature[s], popular at most professional events including Cardinals, Rams and Blues games, have been the source of controversy.

At a Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics game in June, the camera zoomed in on actor Dustin Hoffman, sitting between his wife and actor Jason Bateman. Hoffman opted to plant one on Bateman instead of his spouse. And in last season’s finale of the ABC comedy “Modern Family,” the Kiss Cam at the Staples Center in Los Angeles was used to create an awkward moment between a man and his mother-in-law.

It’s those awkward moments that the [St. Louis] Cardinals are always concerned about, said Cardinals spokesman Chris Tunno.

“Do you pick a guy and a girl? And what if you pick someone who is not together? And two guys and two girls? Same thing. You’d be in a total mess.”

Dustin Hoffman’s Kiss Cam prank was ingenious. I’m sure it amused most fans, and probably grossed out a few. But since Kiss Cams never show actual gay couples, there’s a subversive side to Hoffman’s maneuver, as well.

Tunno’s explanation, on the other hand, is lame. He claims that gay couples present the “same” potentially awkward situations as the “guy and girl” couples, yet he doesn’t explain why the kiss cam won’t show them. If showing a gay couple kissing is truly “the same thing” as showing a hetero couple, then there’s no additional risk. (The real, unspoken concern is offending fans by showing a same-same sex couple kissing on the video screens, but Tunno is disinclined to say that.)

Sure enough, on Sept. 12 a Kiss Cam incident occurred at a football game in St. Louis between the Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. During the Kiss Cam interlude, two guys wearing Arizona jerseys were pictured on the big video screen – implying that they, and perhaps all other Arizona fans, were gay. Many Ram fans enjoyed the public mockery of their opponents, but St. Louis’ LGBT community felt degraded. So they began an effortto have the Kiss Cam show a gay couple kiss two weeks later at an LGBT event at St Louis Busch stadium.

Two hundred gays and lesbians attended the “Out at the Ballpark” event, and all sat in the same section, and repeatedly requested that one of their couples get selected for Kiss Cam coverage. Unfortunately, their section was passed over. Apparently, the Kiss Cam can mock two straight guys by implying that they’re gay, but it can’t show an actual gay couple kissing.

Thus, the Kiss Cam barrier is still ripe for breaking. Sports Columnist Dan Fogartywonders which city will be the first to do it:

[W]hich pro sports team is most likely to show the first man-on-man smooch in kiss cam history (it has to be guy-on-guy to really count as groundbreaking, since, I don’t know if you know this, but most heterosexual males who are into sports are also into two girls kissing)? The Lakers pseudo did it when Dustin Hoffman and Jason Bateman kissed during the NBA Finals, but that doesn’t count. Has to be a legitimate gay male couple.

The Saints game on Halloween nightoffered the perfect opportunity to break the Kiss Cam barrier, in a Trojan horse style. Imagine: the Kiss Cam lands on a costumed couple, who are both wearing masks. The crowd implores them to kiss, so they do, and the crowd cheers. But then the costumed pair removes their masks to reveal – BOO! – a same-sex couple.

Then what happens? That’s the question.

I’m thinking there might be a stunned pause (a la Victor/Victoria) where the crowd is momentarily stunned but then bursts into even heartier applause. Sure, there would be plenty of dolts who would go “eww” – but that just makes them look stupid. A few seconds ago they were cheering for the costumed pair to kiss, and now they’re booing them because they’re the same gender?

The fallback counter-argument to this suggestion is, as always: “I’m not homophobic, but I don’t want my kids to see that.”

Right. Well, sorry a gay kiss spoiled your afternoon of watching muscular athletes in tights piling on top of one another.

Listen, if you take junior to a game, he’s going to be exposed to curse words, gyrating Saintsations, and the “Halftime” song (full lyrics here). And that’s before the main event, which features pro-union gladiators sacrificing their ligaments and brains in a brutal contest that’s becoming too dangerous to watch at close distance without a helmet.

And how can you be worried about “confusing” junior’s impressionable mind, after you cross-dressedand paraded in the streets when the Saints made it to the Super Bowl? More importantly: isn’t paying $9 for a beer more stomach-turning than seeing 3 seconds of gay smooching? Or, let’s turn it around, what if beers were half price for those who watched a gay kiss on the jumbotron – would that change your thinking on the matter?

Thirty years ago, a passionate interracial kiss on the big screen would generate a lot of squirming. Today, attitudes have changed, and it’s no big deal. (No doubt some still disapprove, but they’re cognizant of the fact that cultural norms have passed them by, and now they’re the outliers.) And twenty or thirty years from now, you can bet that societal approval of same-sex kissing will have similarly shifted.

Not being the most liberal organization around, the NFL is reluctant to wade into divisive cultural issues. But that’s my point. In just the last few years, American attitudes have reached a turning point. And, surprisingly, the recent elections confirmed that shift.

At first glance, this summer looked perfectly suited for a culture war on contentious gay issues. Federal courts struck downboth the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy. Surely one if not both of those issues would insinuate itself into the GOP’s campaign agenda, especially in an election that got “nationalized.” After all, only four short years ago, the gay marriage issue was intentionally elevated by President Bush and the GOP as a centerpiece of their strategy to “rally the base” for the 2006 mid-term elections.

But it didn’t work. Democrats retook the House and Senate in 2006. Republicans learned that while divisive, anti-gay issues might energize their funda-gelical Christian wing, they were a turn-off for many key moderate voters in the suburbs (especially women).

This year, the GOP learned their lesson and made a point of de-emphasizing social “wedge” issues like gay marriage in order to focus on government spending and the sour economy. They unveiled a “Pledge” to American voters that didn’t even mention the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy or the federal marriage amendment. Complaints from conservative evangelical leaders were largely ignored. Republicans refused to make anti-gay issues part of their national campaign portfolio, and they were richly rewarded: the GOP wrested the House of Representatives back from the Democrats. Avoiding gay issues to focus on the economy wasn’t the only key to their success, but it was one of them. And they’ll remember that.

The Human Rights Campaign released a post-election statement noting that many of the “most vociferous opponents of LGBT” lost on Tuesday while a “record number of openly LGBT candidates won.” Rep-elect David Cicilline, for example, will become the fourth openly gay member of Congress. Again, this occurred during a conservative landslide. Voters in Lexington, Ky.,  – the same state that elected Tea Party darling Rand Paul to the Senate – also elected Jim Gray, who will become Lexington’s first openly gay mayor.

Even before this summer’s furor over bullying and gay suicides, and Ft. Worth City Councilman Joel Burn’s courageous “It Gets Better” speech, young voters overwhelmingly supported gay marriage. And don’t count out the affect of “Glee,” the popular Fox TV show that breaks gender stereotypes every episode. Last year, even a GOP pollster called gay marriage an inevitability:

“It’s only a matter of time,” said a prominent Republican pollster, who declined to be named for stating a view that runs contrary to those of many of his clients. “Once the dam bursts, which is going to happen, it’s a process that won’t be stopped.”

Twenty years ago American attitudes toward interracial marriage crossed an important milestone. For the first time, polling showed that more Americans approved of such marriages than disapproved. Naturally, this transition took time, and there were plenty of cultural laggards. Bob Jones University, for example, continued to use Biblical interpretations to justify their continued opposition to interracial marriage:

In 1998 Jonathan Pait, a public relations spokesman for the university, explained the school’s prohibition against interracial dating: “God has separated people for his own purposes. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different from one another and intends those differences to remain. Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established.

Ten years after that statement, America elected a bi-racial president, and Bob Jones University admitted that its Scriptural interpretation of “God’s barriers” had been wrong. They apologized for their long-held policies and their failure to “accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves.”

Recent polling suggestswe are at or near another “crossover” point. Public approval of gay marriage has increased enormouslysince 1996. And two or three decades from now, you can bet there will be overwhelming support for it.

The current arguments against gay marriage are about as weak as the old ones against interracial marriage – and I’m not even counting the juvenile one-liners that rely on restroom door symbology, “Eve” and “Steve” rhymes, or specious appeals to what “nature intended.”

Despite years of disciplined usage by the religious right the “it’s a lifestyle choice” talking point failed to enter the mainstream. So now the new mantra by gay marriage opponents is “don’t redefine our sacred institution.” Which is funny, because how can you be deathly afraid of same-sex couples “redefining” a “sacred institution” that has a 50% failure rate? Yeah, whatever you do, don’t let the gays into THAT elite club, who knows how they’ll muck it up!

So-called “defenders of marriage” often appeal to tradition, but they forget that the concept of marriage has changed substantially throughout human history. Not long ago, “traditional” marriage meant treating women like chattel. Surely we’re glad that notion got redefined. (Most of the time, anyway –  kidding!) The definition of marriage will continue to evolve, as it always has, and in our lifetimes it will expand to include same-sex couples. Bet on it. As the tide turns, we’ll see many former “defenders of marriage” revise their long-held Scriptural interpretations, just as their elders did when interracial marriage became publicly acceptable. And once again you’ll suddenly see spiritual leaders capitulate, and admit that the divine directive to maintain gender barriers is trumped by the greater commandment to love others without barriers.

It’s good to see scientific studies refutingthe argument that same sex parents can’t raise well-adjusted children like “traditional” parents can. (Apparently, scientists discovered that the qualityof parenting is more important than the gender of the parents– wow, who’d a thunk it?) Clearly this is good news, especially for kids who need homes. And as science continues to refute notions about gay parents being inferior and their lifestyle being a “choice,” public opinion will turn permanently and decisively in favor of full LGBT equality, and legislation will finally ensure that same-sex parents get all the rights and privileges of other married couples. And, afterwards, I’ll bet the world doesn’t end.

If you’re not ready to accept this progressive change in cultural attitude, that’s fine. But it’s likely that your offspring will take a different view, and they’ll carry the day.

Obviously, the political fight isn’t over for the LGBT community and their transition into widespread cultural acceptance won’t be seamless. However, even amid a conservative landslide, national momentum is with the gays rather than against them. That’s an extremely revealing data point. Despite all the current events, the GOP went out of its way to avoid gay issues during this cycle. (How they will continue to do this in future cycles without alienating their conservative Christian wing is anyone’s guess.) And many of the candidates who strayed off message and into anti-gay territory lost. Even President Obama, for his part, is hinting that his mind might be changing (again) in regards to marriage equality. Early in his career Obama was for gay marriage, then prior to running for president he was against it. It’s an indicator of how quickly attitudes are changing that Obama might switch his view again, out of political necessity, to win re-election in 2012.

So, while the Kiss Cam issue isn’t hugely important in itself, it’s more than just a revealing socio-cultural experiment, or a purely symbolic gesture. It’s occurring at an important time. Twenty years from now, we might look back on 2010-11 as the crossover point, which foretokened a permanent, progressive majority view about gay rights in America.

Also, the Kiss Cam barrier is just begging to be crossed. I hesitate to use the “low hanging fruit” metaphor, but this would be an easy win for a city that markets itself as an LGBT-friendly destination. Sure, it’s a small step in a long struggle, but it’s a small step in the right direction at an important time. And there’s value in being recognized as the first city to take such a step.

New Orleans shouldn’t be afraid of a gay Kiss Cam moment. Whether it’s the Saints or the Hornets, we’re the perfect city to break the barrier, and I’d like to be in that number when it’s broken. Further, I’d like to believe we can break it in style, with flying colors and hearty applause.

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