Gay Marriage, Barack Obama, and Andrew Sullivan

case for gay marriage (2).jpg

I was at the New Republic in 1989 when Andrew Sullivan published his pathbreaking cover story "The Case for Gay Marriage." There are two things about the experience that may be hard to convey to people younger than 25, maybe even 30:

1) What a radical idea this seemed like at the time. I'm not sure I'd ever heard anyone mention gay marriage, and I'd certainly never seen a written defense of it.

2) How important a single magazine could be in pre-internet days. Mike Kinsley, who for my money is the most amazing editor of his generation, had during the 1980s made the New Republic the magazine in Washington.

The combination of these two things was potent. When you take an off-the-charts idea and unveil it on the most prominent stage in Washington, it gets people talking. Yesterday, when President Obama embraced gay marriage, this was a kind of culmination of the conversation that Andrew, more than any other person, started.

Back then Andrew wasn't officially out of the closet; few prominent gay people were, compared to now. And I remember Mike wondering--with a bit of protective concern, as I recall--whether Andrew realized that, having published this piece, he would have trouble keeping his sexual identity private. Indeed, it was as an openly gay man--and an openly gay Catholic, no less--that Andrew would stay in the middle of the conversation he'd started, helping to push it outward until it enveloped the nation.

In the first paragraph of the piece, Andrew described gay marriage as an idea with both radical and conservative elements, but by the end of the piece he'd made it clear which element he considered essential: "It's one of the richest ironies of our society's blind spot toward gays that essentially conservative social goals should have the appearance of being so radical. But gay marriage is not a radical step." It doesn't seem so now, no. This fact--that radical enlightenment can transpire in the course of a couple of decades--kind of gives you hope.


Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Politics

Just In