What Does Ellen and Portia’s Marriage Mean for Same-sex Marriage in the U.S.?

Saturday’s New York Times features an article about comedian Ellen DeGeneres discussing on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show her recent marriage to actress Portia de Rossi. The wedding, filled with what the article suggests “may have been the most public display of gushingly romantic affection between two gay or lesbian celebrities,” came less than a week after Maine voters rejected same-sex marriage, making America’s widespread adoration of DeGeneres all the more interesting in terms of figuring out where exactly Americans stand on the issue of gay marriage.

In the handful of states where same-sex marriage is legal, legislatures and courts — not voters — have made it so. A few polls in recent months have suggested that while a majority of Americans believe that gay couples should be able to enter into unions with some of the legal protections of marriage, a minority believe that gays and lesbians should be permitted to “marry,” per se. Same-sex marriage doesn’t fit into the kind of family that many Americans believe should be idealized; it offends many others’ deeply felt religious principles.

And yet Ms. DeGeneres, who exchanged vows with Ms. de Rossi during a span last year when same-sex marriage was legal in California, seems more popular than ever — and among audiences squarely in the mainstream.

There are various explanations for the seemingly contradictory nature of Americans rejecting same sex marriage in several states, yet fully embracing Ms. DeGeneres. Some LGBT leaders suggest that the movement’s success will soon reflect Ellen’s. Toni Broaddus, the executive director of the Equality Federation, for example, says that “The story of Ellen is, in a way, a sort of metaphor for the story of the movement.” Others, like journalist Rachel Maddow, maintain that Ellen’s status as a comedian who “danc[es] in her sneakers and mak[es] everybody else get up and dance too” makes her unthreatening by nature.

However, the article purports that she is perceived as less threatening by virtue of her gender as well. The article suggests that this may be the case because demeaning stereotypes about gay men typically don’t extend to lesbian women. The article’s author, Frank Bruni, names a whole slew of lesbian entertainers on primetime TV, but gay men are not yet as accepted in the mainstream.

The article concludes by elucidating the radical nature of DeGeneres and de Rossi’s marriage—whilst also emphasizing that they are simply two people in love. This attitude is perfectly encapsulated in this simple phrase describing the image of the couple feeding cake to each other: “They look like countless other newlyweds. Then again, not.” We would like to congratulate Ms. DeGeneres and Ms. DeRossi for their recent nuptials, and furthermore state that we are hopeful that the public’s love of Ms. DeGeneres is a sign that opinions on same-sex marriage are evolving.

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