Glenn Stanton, marriage policy pundit for Focus on the Family, is upset.
This week, “All My Children” — one of ABC’s few surviving shows in the ailing soap opera genre — belatedly recognized that thousands of U.S. gay and lesbian couples are legally married. The soap opera also acknowledged what gay people of faith have known for decades: that some churches and synagogues — even entire denominations –have affirmed monogamous life unions of gay and lesbian couples.
In its response, Focus on the Family dishonors marriage first by putting the word marriage in “scare quotes,” and then by carelessly excusing soaps’ long history of heterosexual infidelity.
What upsets Stanton the most, according to Focus, is the show’s disclosure of a simple truth: Many clergy are not as prejudiced as the pundits at Focus on the Family. Stanton says:
What is really offensive is their use of clergy to perform this genderless and unrealistic ‘marriage.’
Gay and lesbian people are not genderless, and their desire for matrimony is no less “unrealistic” than that of heterosexual persons.
Instead of encouraging TV shows to acknowledge the reality of same-sex marriage and of gay-affirming clergy, Focus is angered that the truth might “desensitize the public” to reality.
Caleb Price, research analyst at Focus on the Family, said some writers in Hollywood are working to desensitize the public to homosexuality and “transgenderism.”
“They will continue to push the boundaries of what is morally and culturally permissible,” he said, “until Americans stand up to the studio execs and advertisers that produce these programs and say, ‘No more.’ ”
Push boundaries? Far from it. No more soaps? Been there, done that.
The fact that it took a couple years for a soap to recognize the existence of gay marriages and gay-affirming churches merely reinforces the widespread sentiment that the soap genre is becoming obsolete.
Studio execs, advertisers, and viewers don’t care about soap operas — most abandoned the genre years ago. In decline as an institution since 1981, the soap opera was jeopardized first by women’s progress in the workplace, then by TiVo and reality TV, then by The Sims and Second Life, and most recently by YouTube, Twitter, texting, and other social media. Venerable soaps are quietly shrinking to skeleton casts and facilities, and the Daytime Emmys are no longer televised.
Focus has reminded us that its mindset may be trapped in a distant era when millions of people, myself included, actually cared what happened on ABC on weekday afternoons: An era when the religious right condemned soaps not for sexual infidelity or for ludicrous tales of weather machines and Ice Princesses, but for their halting efforts to educate viewers about AIDS.
Nowadays, Focus protests a soap opera for honoring marriage. That’s how backward Focus has become.