Sweeping transformations in American civic, cultural and political life are greatly assisted by changes in popular culture. So NBC’s announcement that it will allow the “Today” show to feature same-sex couples vying for its popular marriage contest is big news, indeed. In another ten years, gay-bashing politicians and preachers will have a much harder time persuading the public that gay marriage represents a mortal threat to the institution of marriage. From AP:
NBC extended the deadline for applications until Monday. Already thousands of couples have expressed interest in the on-air wedding, which the top-rated morning show has sponsored for a decade, a spokeswoman said.
“We’re thrilled that ‘Today’ show’s ‘Modern Wedding Contest’ now recognizes what most fair-minded Americans have already concluded — a wedding celebrates love and commitment, whether the spouses are straight or gay,” said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Viewers plan every aspect of the wedding, from the cake to the clothing styles of attendants. NBC picks four couples from thousands of applicants, and viewers vote on which of those couples will participate.
After a meeting with gay and lesbian activists on Thursday, NBC’s “Today” show said it is changing the rules for its annual wedding contest to allow same-sex couples to apply for a ceremony conducted on morning TV.
In other news related to the gradual extension of gay rights, a Massachusetts court ruled yesterday that the federal ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. From the NYT:
A federal judge in Massachusetts found Thursday that a law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, ruling that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
Judge Joseph L. Tauro of United States District Court in Boston sided with the plaintiffs in two separate cases brought by the state attorney general and a gay rights group.
Although legal experts disagreed over how the rulings would fare on appeal, the judge’s decisions were nonetheless sure to further inflame the nationwide debate over same-sex marriage and gay rights.
If the rulings find their way to the Supreme Court and are upheld there, they will put same-sex marriage within the constitutional realm of protection, just as interracial marriage has been for decades. Seeking that protection is at the heart of both the Massachusetts cases and a federal case pending in California over the legality of that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Court rulings are very important in protecting minority rights — establishing a minimum degree of institutional support for women, people of color, Jews and other groups that have been historically disciminated against. But television, music and other medium of popular culture do much more to change public attitudes, especially among the young.
Many observers of cultural transformation credit televisions shows such as “24″ and movies such as “Deep Impact” with preparing the nation for the first black president. They featured black actors in that role.
TV shows such as “Glee” feature gay actors and children of gay parents in well-drawn roles. Those shows, too, have done much to change the culture. So will “Today” show weddings help bring same-sex marriage into mainstream acceptance.