For a moment, I got truly excited. Giddy even (which never happens on a commute). And then, I listened to the rest of the report, which went on to primarily discuss how being able to count gay couples as married will be "gold for advertisers." Yes, you read that right, the NPR piece (via American Public Media) was using this major turning point as the basis for a discussion about targeted advertising:
"He says for marketers like him, it's not only important to know where gay people live, but also the kinds of relationships they have with each other.
"So for example, if I was looking to sell, say luxury cruises, I'd probably be targeting couples," says Paisley.
And the census information will tell marketers which communities have a larger percentage of gays and lesbians in long-term relationships. But marketers won't be able to get their hands on this information until next year when raw census data is released."I wish I could tell you that the story didn't end with the above excerpt, but it does. I wish I could tell you that the story talked more about how the numbers might under-count the real number of same-sex marriages because it seems counter-intuitive to declare your relationship on a legal document to a government that doesn't legally recognize it, but it didn't. I wish I could tell you that the story talked about the contradictions inherent in this census action, but it's NPR and so they refuse to ever discuss topics that are controversial in a meaningful way. And I wish I could tell you that the story talked about the importance and power of finally being publicly recognized for who you truly are, even via an interview snippet with a major LGBT activist, but NPR didn't bother. I wish I could say that the article discussed how demographics can influence politicians and therefore policy, but it didn't.
There are a lot of ways to make a radio piece boring and tame enough to not offend anyone (which often seems to be NPR's morning news goal) but an insipid story about the benefit of the same-sex marriage census data to marketers isn't what I expected. I wish I had some insightful rant or commentary, but I'm mostly just floored. Marriage isn't a marketing niche, it's a personal commitment and a legal right. Overlooking the glaring contradictions in the government's actions and injustice-yet-benefit in this small step forward isn't a chance to make a point about selling more luxury cruises to gay couples. The point is that we're at a crossroads in this country. Demographics will ultimately win the fight for marriage equality, because the younger generation is increasingly more tolerant of gay marriage than older generations. And they are more tolerant because of exposure to their neighbors and friends who are (sometimes) more comfortable being out and who are therefore normalizing the normal. And high rates of self-reporting from same-sex married and domestic partners could increase public understanding of that normal. This is a big deal - both in its contradictions and in the potential for change - and I wish we as a society were actually adult enough to talk about the real issues here without shying away from "controversy" on our morning commutes. Because to me, it's controversial that most people don't talk about the civil rights injustices at all.
UPDATE: My discomfort with this NPR article has been nagging at me since I heard it, and I think I finally put my finger on the real reason why in the comments below. Because I don't have a (significant) problem with dollars as a catalyst for (this sort of) social change and I know how NPR and the Marketplace program work. But it was something deeper that didn't feel quite right. And I think I better articulate why in the comments below.