With the New York state legislature hanging in the balance about whether to legalize same sex marriage, it’s worth asking ourselves how we got this far. Film has played a role.
I remember discussions in leftist circles in the 1970’s about pushing a liberal agenda through film. Show a courageous union organizer like Norma Rae or whistleblower like Karen Silkwood and you’ll get a lot further than doing almost anything else. They may well have been right. Earlier this week Julia and I watched The Kids Are All Right (2010), which succeeds in making same sex partnership look as American as apple pie.
In fact, if the parents (Julianne Moore as Jules, Annette Bening as Nic) weren’t the same sex, the film probably wouldn’t have been made. After all, the plot has nothing more exceptional than Jules, longing for an excitement that has gone out of the
marriage partnership, committing adultery. Nic and the kids feel betrayed, there is unpleasantness, and then the family reknits.
What is unusual is that Jules has her affair with the father of her child (Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo), who she meets only because her kids, without her knowledge, have tracked down the sperm donor. The affair is pornographic fantasy, not discovery that she is heterosexual. In other words, her transgression involves having sex with a man whereas integrity means remaining with a woman.
For those unwilling to accept same sex partnerships, the film offers some dark temptations: Are you willing to give Paul the family he suddenly discovers he wants, even though he has done none of the hard work involved with raising a family? Do you want Jules to go straight, even though this would mean leaving Nic out in the cold?
The Kids Are All Right makes it clear that such a plot development would be, well, unAmerican. In the end, Paul is expelled as “an interloper”—“Go off and make your own family,” Nic orders him—and the nuclear family is restored. The film strikes a blow for traditional family values.
If the arc of history continues to bend as it seems to be bending, same sex marriage will one day become generally accepted. In ten years (is that too optimistic?), we may watch The Kids Are All Right and wonder why someone chose to make a film about such a mundane subject.
That’s what we’re fighting for: the freedom of gays and lesbians to be as conventional as everyone else.
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