At first glance, “Would you go to a gay wedding?” seems like the millennial iteration of a question posed to Bill Clinton in the 1990s—“boxers or briefs?” Superficial, irrelevant, somewhat titillatingly personal.
But I think it’s the kind of question we need to ask more often of politicians: What do you do when the policies you support hurt someone you care about?
Most of us become, at least for a little while, hypocrites. And thank God we do.
“Would you go to gay wedding?” doesn’t take the place of asking about marriage equality and legal protections of LGTB Americans. Certainly, a candidate saying he would go to the gay wedding of friends doesn’t make up for not supporting that couple’s rights.
And its worth pointing out that the politically safe stand for this year’s crop of candidates falls far short of the example set by 90-year old George H.W. Bush, who quietly served as the official witness for a lesbian wedding of longtime friends in 2013.
The 2016 candidates who have said they’d celebrate the weddings of friends who they don’t think are fully equal under the law deserve to be criticized. But I think we should celebrate their hypocrisy. That’s why I sincerely hope that every GOP candidate who said they’d go to a gay friends’ wedding gets invited to lots of them.
Of all the 2016 GOPers, only Rick Santorum has said he would not attend a gay wedding or post-nuptial celebration. But, what the heck, invite him anyway. Encourage hypocrisy. After all, refusing to go isn’t so much a part of a principled opposition to same-sex marriage, it's a tacit admission that being a part of such a celebration might make it difficult to maintain that opposition.
Ted Cruz, who awkwardly dodged the issue of getting invited to gay weddings, recently turned up at a New York City reception held by a two gay businessmen. He was said to “soft pedal” his position on same-sex marriage and admit that he would love his daughter “just as much” if she turned out to be gay. This is obvious evidence of hypocrisy, exactly the kind we want to encourage—the kind of hypocrisy that makes society livable.
Cruz attended the reception because he recognized that there was something to be gained from going. That’s why most people go to weddings—even the weddings of people we disagree with, or have fought with.
What most people recognize, but apparently Cruz does not, is that weddings are just as networky and transactional as any political gathering. (It’s true that all GOP presidential hopefuls are justified to be worried about where gay couples might put them on their seating charts.)
In the uncomfortable situation of an unasked-for or unexpected wedding invitation, we often go because we owe the couple something, or they owe us and we expect the debt to be paid by an open bar and some cake. We go and we avoid sensitive topics because it’s a fucking wedding and we don’t want to make a scene. It’s “their day,” and we set aside resentments and feuds and just try to be happy for them.
And then, once we’re there, something predictable yet always amazing happens: We find that resentment we had harder to recall. The venom of the feud dissipates. You get drunk and make out with a groomsman.
This is probably what Rick Santorum is afraid of.
After all, the impossibility of caring about an LGTB loved one while simultaneously believing their relationships to be less worthy of respect is how most Americans experienced the impact of marriage rights’ expansion in their own lives.
The millions of Americans who have come over to the side of marriage equality in the past decade did not get there, I think, because someone argued them into it.
They wound up supporting marriage equality because a small, important vanguard of gay and lesbian Americans got married and... nothing bad happened. Former supporters of “traditional marriage” wound up intermingling with gay and lesbian couples in a myriad of ways—in their neighborhoods, via their businesses—and... everyone was pretty nice. As much as I would like to believe that it was political columnists who helped move the country to the right side of history on this issue, I suspect it was more the doing of thousands of fundamentally decent same-sex couples, just living their blatantly normal lives, that did it.
So in the spirit of personal hope if not political expectation, I encourage gay couples everywhere to invite the GOP candidates to their weddings. At the very least, guilt them into buying something off the registry.