Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, NYC — Forty-two years ago next Tuesday, a police raid against this gay bar started a series of riots that sparked the birth of the modern gay-rights movement. Tonight marks, for New York, the end of the long road that began at this unassuming little bar.
The crowd here is not that large, by New York City standards: I’d guess fewer than a thousand people. And, having seen a few gay-pride parades, I can also say it’s a remarkably demure group here tonight — cheerful and exuberant, to be sure, but not aggressive, boisterous, or eager to shock. You know those people who take cameras to rallies — whether it’s a Gay Day or a Tea Party — just to photograph the two or three creepiest-looking people there, to post on the Internet and say, “See? You see how creepy those people are?”? Well, their effort to find creepy-looking crazies here would be in vain. The most out-there people I’ve seen are a sweet young couple, being interviewed by a reporter with “Associated Press” on his accompanying camera: a handsome 26-year-old chap from Ireland in a laid-back T-shirt and a gorgeous platinum-blonde in a stunning 1950s Seven Year Itch-style dress. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, what’s so “out there” about great retro clothes? And you’re right, it’s actually not that “out there” at all. The only thing that makes it worth mentioning is that the hot blonde proves, on my closer inspection, to be a guy.
There are a few high-fives, and fewer shouts; mostly a remarkably placid, well-behaved crowd enjoying the sweetness of a symbolic victory. And I stress symbolic: There is no actual change in what these folks are allowed to do in their private lives. The only difference tonight makes is that the people of New York decided, through their elected representatives, that the handful of gays who want to make the particular kind of commitment to each other known as marriage, can do so with our collective blessing. (With the proviso that some who object to this approval for religious reasons will not themselves be compelled to approve. The road from Stonewall, June 1969, to Stonewall, June 2011, was a trajectory of greater social acceptance of difference and nonconformity. It would be a betrayal of the deep American principles at work there if tonight’s victory for the gays resulted in the violation of the conscience rights of those who have religious objections. I’m sure the lawyers will weigh in with words-a-plenty on the specifics; have at it.)
I learn tonight that the annual gay-pride march is on this very Sunday; perhaps there will be a louder, more in-your-face contingent there. But here, tonight, I see neither the face of anarchy, nor that of a nascent “North Korea.” I see smiles on young people — and also, on some quiet senior citizens who are actually old enough to remember Stonewall 1969.
And speaking of 1969, here’s a little bit of perspective. In 1969, Spain was a conservative religious republic, led by the legendary Generalissimo Francisco Franco; and New York City was already Babylon-on-the-Hudson, well on its way to being the crime-sex-drugs-porn-and-atonal-music capital of the world. If I had said to you then, “Forty years from now, one of these places will allow homosexuals to marry each other with the blessing of the state” . . . well, let’s just say you would have made a lot of money if you had bet on Spain.
Spain did it in 2005, six years ahead of the Empire State; and now we have it here in ol’ Babylon. I call it Babylon affectionately; let no one question, on this night, my patriotism as a citizen of the state of Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Marx Brothers.