Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Richard Nixon, Sexual Visionary?

This summer I read an absolutely fascinating book called Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz. It’s a must-read for anyone who talks about the “traditional marriage,” because it shows just how un-traditional the model that most of us have in mind is. It also shows how marriage is an amazingly flexible institution, adjusting to meet the needs of the time and the culture; and an institution which despite the cries of many alarmists, isn’t going away any time in the foreseeable future.

As I read and marked up my copy of the book, I kept some of my friends up to date with some of the more interesting things I'd read. And perhaps one of the most fascinating things I read is this section about Richard Nixon:
Almost immediately [in the late 60s, after Loving v Virginia], several gay and lesbian partners argued that they too should have a fundamental right to marry. In 1970, President Richard Nixon commented that he could understand allowing the intermarriage of blacks and whites, but as for same-sex marriage, "I can't go that far -- that's the year 2000." Little did he realize how close his estimate would turn out to be. [pg 256]
The reason I bring this up is that even a staunch conservative like Nixon didn't say that it couldn't or shouldn't ever happen, but that he, and perhaps the rest of society, just couldn’t go there yet, and that perhaps it would be something that would see its day in 30 years, at the turn of a new century (and when he was sure to not be around anymore).

Say what you will about the rest of "Tricky Dick's" failings, but this is one place where he was spot on. Not only in the prediction that it would come, but in what I'm reading as his implication that he wouldn't get in the way of it when that time came. Many of the people I read about trying to prevent even civil unions from occurring are trying to prevent them from ever happening. RMN knew better. He knew that gay marriage would happen when a critical mass of people found no problem with the idea, and that the critical mass would likely happen 30 years down the line, as younger and younger people became more comfortable with the idea.

I'm betting that 30 years hence, we'll look back and say "What the hell took us so long?" Sure there'll still be pockets of people who disapprove, just as there are pockets of people who disapprove of me and Cheryl because we’re an interracial couple, but they will no longer represent the mainstream, and most people will look at these dissenters as if they had three eyes.

Perhaps it would be good (and I still can’t believe I’m saying this) if everyone if everyone learned a little from the example of Richard Nixon, the conservative who saw gay marriage on the horizon, but just not in his lifetime.

I also think it would be good if everyone picked up a copy of Marriage, A History. It’s a fascinating book, and one that you’ll hear more about from me in the coming months.

1 comment:

  1. For some one as rigid and introverted as he was he was pretty accurate in predicting social trends.