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Make it a gay-old time

JOEL STEIN

C'mon, senior citizens, vote for same-sex marriage -- it's the future.

May 30, 2008|JOEL STEIN

Dear old people,

I'm addressing you specifically for two reasons. First of all, you're the only people who still read the newspaper. Second, this November, your vote on a proposed California constitutional amendment will determine whether the state again bans gay people from getting married. That's because, according to a Field poll released Tuesday, while the majority of Californians under 50 support same-sex marriage, only 36% of senior citizens do. So your vote could very well overturn the wishes of everyone else because, as with newspaper reading, you're the only people who vote. When you guys die, we're going to make all of our political decisions by asking questions of a Magic 8-Ball.

I get that gay people make you uncomfortable. You didn't have gay people when you were growing up. Instead, your straight selves and your straight friends enjoyed straight nights out at Gilbert and Sullivan operettas before coming home to put on Liberace albums and watch game shows starring Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde. If my life were as dominated by gay culture as much as yours was, I wouldn't like them either.

I know that picturing gay people having sex skeeves you out. But if that were a test for being married, we'd have a constitutional amendment pulling your marriage license at age 60. In fact, you and the gays have more in common than any other demographic groups. You both like watching old movies, cleaning your house, playing with other people's kids and cutting your hair too short. You could start a successful chain of gay-old boring day-care centers.

Despite all your discomfort, I'm asking you to take a leap of faith and trust the younger generations on this one. I know you don't think we've done so well with the movies and the ladies' clothing, but our scientists also invented lots of new medicine without which "Larry King Live" wouldn't have enough commercials to stay on the air. And where would you be then?

Remember how your parents felt about desegregation? And how their parents objected to women's suffrage? And their parents felt about indoor fire? This may seem different, but it isn't. Gays are going to be fully accepted by society. You can either slow that process in a desperate attempt to keep the world safely the same, or you can help expedite that change and get to see what the future will be like.

Look, no one blames you. The reason you're uncomfortable with same-sex marriage is simply that gays were closeted when you were under 45. A study done 10 years ago by Stanford neuroscientist and MacArthur Fellowship genius grant recipient Robert Sapolsky found that by middle age, people reject new things. He found that if a new genre of music emerges after you're 35 -- like rap -- the odds are greater than 95% that you're going to hate it. Or, if you were a non-Asian Midwesterner who was over 39 when sushi came to your town, there's less than a 5% chance you now frequent sushi bars. In my study, based solely on my father, by age 68 the odds are close to 100% that you'll respond to every e-mail with a phone call.

I already can relate to your desire for stability: I hate blogs and reality TV because they require me to change my comfortable career and learn just how complicated Denise Richards' life is. (Dogs and pet pigs? How does she keep it together?) And I fully expect that in my dotage, my grandkids will tell me to stop my carnivorous animal-killing ways and to recycle my own urine. And I won't like it, but I hope I still feel alive enough to exchange comfort for excitement.

So I'm asking you to vote against all your wisdom and experience. I'm asking you to trust that the history of social change is full of uncomfortable lurches toward improvement through inclusion and equality. I'm asking you, at least while you're in the voting booth in November for those five minutes -- or in some of your cases, 10 to 15 minutes with the help of a volunteer -- to pretend you're cool with gays.

Also, you should know that rap isn't that bad. In fact, I've posted a list of songs at latimes.com/rapforgrandma called "Rap for Grandma." You can listen to them with the help of your grandson. You know, the one whose girlfriend you for some reason never get to meet.

--

jstein@latimescolumnists.com

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