The new issue of Time magazine has declared it: "Gay Marriage Already Won: The Supreme Court Hasn't Made Up Its Mind—But America Has." To go along with that statement, and a cover story by David von Drehle, they're offering us two covers of same-sex couples mid-kiss, taken by Time photographer Peter Hapak: Sarah Kate and Kristen Ellis-Henderson, who have been married since 2011, and Russell Hart and Eric LaBonté, who have been engaged since 2010.
It makes sense, right? It's a push further along the line of newsweekly covers discussing gay rights: from protesting to hand-holding to hugging. A kiss would have to follow at some point. And a kiss is one of the most basic images with which we can show love. It's a universal experience, something anyone over the age of 12 or 14 can probably relate to. A kiss is also traditionally that thing that happens at the end of the wedding, when the vows have been spoken and the pronouncements have been made. The striking combination of this intimate moment shared between same-sex couples on a public cover is both timely and Time-ly (i.e., will, surely the editors hope, sell more magazines and get people talking).
But that same-sex couples kissing on a magazine cover is still cause for surprise, for shock, for discussions and reactions and double takes, that it would even be a cover, means in fact we're not quite all the way there. The expectations of how the Supreme Court will ultimately rule—strike down DOMA but allow the lower court's ruling to stand on Prop 8, meaning gay marriage would be legal in California but remain banned in other states—indicate that as well, even as public opinion has experienced a sea change, an inspiring open-mindedness and acceptance that seems all but sure to continue.
Online reactions to the covers appear to support that dual reality of what we want to achieve—the point we should someday (soon, one hopes) reach—and where we are as well. On Twitter, I'm seeing words like "provocative," "sexy," and "sure-to-be-controversial," among the reactions. At BuzzFeed, Dorsey Shaw says Time is "sexualizing same-sex marriage." Andrew Beaujon writes at Poynter that there was much discussion in the Time offices over the covers: In an editor's note, Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel explains, "We had a long debate in our offices about this week's cover images of two same-sex couples. Some thought they were sensationalist and too in-your-face. Others felt the images were beautiful and symbolized the love that is at the heart of the idea of marriage. I agree with the latter, and I hope you do too."
Would such a debate have existed over a cover featuring heterosexual couples kissing? Would such a thing be considered "sensationalist"? Doubtful. Certainly, these rather chaste, lovely images of couples kissing are not even close to embodying the sensationalism of another cover I can think of. But also, there'd be little cause to put a hetero couple kissing on a cover, or at least, no reason that comes easily to my mind. I think these covers are great, but that we need them, regardless of Von Drehle's article and the progress that's been made, means gay marriage hasn't, in fact, quite "won" yet. It won't have won until marriage is legal for same-sex couples throughout the U.S., and recognized federally, too. It won't have won until "gay marriage" is no different than any marriage. And it won't have won until gay couples kissing wouldn't even merit consideration from an editor at Time magazine as a cover, not because it's too sensationalist, but because, well, why would you even do that? Don't we see all sorts of combinations of people kissing everywhere? We're all perfectly fine with that. Let's move on to a discussion that gets people riled up! How we feel about PDA: Now that's a topic that can apply to all of us.
Another recent example of same-sex couples kissing on a cover is David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing, an upcoming Y.A. book that features exactly that, for all to see on its front. I spoke to Levithan about it recently, and he told me, "We should see same-sex couples doing anything that an opposite sex couple is doing on a cover. It's no more gratuitous than straight people kissing. It’s crossing another line, but that’s what we keep doing in Y.A. It’s just taken the rest of the world longer to catch up." One could say that Time magazine has done its part to keep up, but until the variety and different combinations of people who may kiss publicly, married or not, becomes nothing to remark on at all on the cover of a magazine or anywhere else, when we see the beauty of the photos rather than the genders kissing, and when we'll have stopped needing to preface the word marriage with the word "gay"—we'll know that we're at a place where marriage equality, and people equality, has reached the most winning point of all.