Carl Paladino is right.
Monday on Good Morning America, the Republican nominee for governor of New York said of his Democratic opponent: "Andrew Cuomo said he took his children to a gay pride parade. I was at one in Toronto one time. … It was a bunch of very extreme-type people in bikini-type outfits grinding at each other and doing these gyrations, and I certainly wouldn't let my young children see that." On the Today show, Paladino told the same story: "They wear these little Speedos, and they grind against each other, and it's just a terrible thing. Why would you bring your children to that?"
Cuomo's kids are 16, 16, and 13. I'm sure they've seen plenty of bikinis and grinding already. But Paladino is right about the gyrating Speedos. Gay pride parades aren't the best thing to take little kids to, especially if you want them to think of homosexuals as normal people. You'd be better off taking them to a picnic where boring gay couples chat about one another's kids and gardens. You'd be better off, in short, if gay people were married.
I lived for 10 years along the route of the gay pride parade in Washington, D.C. The New York parade is bigger but similar. You can watch a video montage of it here. You'll see ordinary folks: grandparents in sun hats, a parade queen in a tiara, a bicycling AIDS activist in a suit and bowtie, and a guy with a sign that says, "You know what's so gay? My family." But you'll also see scrotal pouches, jockstrapped drag queens, men with exposed butt cheeks, a guy with a flagpole in his pants, women wearing nothing but pasties, and a nearly naked dude grinding his crotch against a pole. The Onion, as my colleague Farhad Manjoo reminds me, once summarized these freak shows in a brilliant parody: "Gay-Pride Parade Sets Mainstream Acceptance of Gays Back 50 Years."
Drag queens and butt-cheek boys don't represent gay America any more than Mardi Gras, Spring Break, and Jersey Shore represent straight America. The reality is less sexy. According to the most recent census estimates, 700,000 to 800,000 same-sex couples now live together. One-third of them are raising children. But most of these people don't refer to their partners as spouses, and few have gotten married. Legally, they can't.
That's what makes Paladino's position so odd. "I have no reservations whatsoever about gays, except for marriage," he said on GMA. "I only have one problem with homosexuality, and that's their desire to be married." On Today, he drew the same line. When Fox News asked him why he had brought up homosexuality, Paladino said the real difference between him and Cuomo was on gay marriage.
But if skimpily clad pole dancers are bad models for kids, the obvious antidote is to legalize and promote gay marriage. Then politicians wouldn't have to march with boys in bikinis to show their support of equal rights. There'd be a Mardi-Gras-style parade for the nipple flaunters and a family-friendly parade for the boring gay couples. The couples could walk with their kids. And your kids could watch.
Or maybe, if your kid turns out to be gay, you'd march in that parade with him. It might feel awkward, but you'd want the best for him. That's the dilemma Paladino is grappling with. He's Catholic. He's been taught that homosexuality is wrong. But his nephew, "a wonderful boy," has come out to him. He wants the young man to be healthy, happy, and loved.
That's who Paladino was talking about Monday when he called homosexuality "a difficult life for a young person." It's probably who he was thinking of a day earlier, when he told a group of Orthodox Jews that "my children and your children will be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family." "I don't want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option," the candidate said. But why must they choose between homosexuality and marriage? That dilemma isn't God's doing. It's Paladino's.
On Monday, when he was asked whether homosexuality was a choice, Paladino struggled for an answer. "I've had difficulty with that," he said. "My nephew tells me he didn't have that choice." But Paladino does have a choice. He can offer young gay people the same valid and successful life he commends to straight people. He can support same-sex marriage.