Hartman: Gay Rights In America

Is Gay Marriage Still A Taboo Subject?

This week's commentary by 60 Minutes II Columnist Steve Hartman.

Exactly 37 years ago this week, CBS News took on what had been a taboo subject. It was a program about gays in America. When I watched it recently, my jaw practically dropped to the floor.

A few clips showed veteran newsman Mike Wallace interviewing a gay man who hid his face behind a plant to hide his identity as a gay man. Here are some excerpts from the piece:

Mike Wallace: Most Americans are repelled by the mere notion of homosexuality. The CBS News survey shows that two out of three Americans look upon homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear....

This was 1967, and whoever named the program just cut to the chase: "CBS Reports: 'The Homosexuals' will continue in a moment."

The show was so controversial, not one sponsor would touch it. In fact, the whole concept of gay rights was brand new.

"I'm a country boy, I guess, because I couldn't believe this, at least I didn't think anybody would have a sign out about this."

But for me, the most telling part of the program was a bizarre interview with a man shrouded by a houseplant.

"I don't go looking for homosexual relationships."

Apparently, back then, just admitting you were gay required some very dense foliage. Now, of course, gay couples can flaunt their love without so much as a ficus, on the steps of City Hall, with every network watching.

Our society may oppose gay marriage, but it is considerably more tolerant than it was. A lot of people would never, ever, hate someone just for being gay.

For being annoying? Yes. For being gay? No. We've come a long way in so many respects.

And yet, at the end of a show, the gay houseplant says something that sounds as current today as the latest satellite feed: "A family, a home, someplace where you belong, a place where you're loved, where you can love somebody. And God knows, I need to love somebody."

That wish is now finally on the table. I have no idea what will happen with gay marriage, but I do know that someday, perhaps 40 years from now, some other reporter will be digging through the archives to see how America handled the issue at the beginning of the 21st century.

Heck, knowing Mike, it might even be him. Point is, I think we need to be really careful about this amending-the-Constitution business, and just hope that history doesn't judge us too harshly.