Norman Lear on Gay Characters, ‘All in the Family’ and Big-Scale Thinking

Writer-producer Norman Lear in 1971 created TV’s first sympathetic gay, Archie’s pal on “All in the Family.” In ’75, “Hot L Baltimore” had the first gay couple as series regulars. Lear also founded People for the American Way and wrote “Even This I Get to Experience.”

Are you surprised it’s taken 40 years for the Supreme Court to address same-sex couples?

It’s taken the entire Judeo-Christian ethic two thousand years to get to this point! So, in that sense, 40 years doesn’t seem so long. But it’s too long in terms of seeing that justice will be done. Do I think ‘All in the Family’ changed things or made a big difference? I would be some kind of fool to think my little half-hours did something more. But the show called attention to what people were thinking; it got the conversation rolling. TV program-practices people would say “the American public is not ready for this.” The person who tells you “no” is reporting to somebody, who’s reporting to somebody, who’s reporting to somebody else. But American audiences are a common-sense group. We understood that people are wise enough to know that this is in a piece of entertainment.

Your bumper sticker says “Just another version of you.”

I’m very proud of that. It says it all. We’ve become a culture or a nation that takes itself far too seriously. We believe we’re God’s chosen. Well, God’s chosen is the entire human species and every other species.

We are simply versions of each other.

Tell us about People for the American Way.

You can’t have a fair culture without understanding the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the First Amendment; they’re there to protect everyone. Can two people of the same sex buy a wedding cake or appear on that wedding cake? It’s about equal opportunity under the law and making sure nobody is better off under the law than the next fella. If you take that seriously, there is only one way to answer those questions: What is fair here? When I was a boy going to public school, they taught civics. As kids, we appreciated our guarantees and promises yet to be fulfilled. I’m not talking about wearing an American-flag pin; I’m talking about learning to understand what those Founding Fathers had in mind. With budget cuts, civics was one of the first things to go, even before music and the arts — all of the things that feed our spiritual lives and our desire for connection. The individual matters, in the great scheme of things. This is one planet amid a billion others. Can you measure the distance between the importance of Jonas Salk and the guy who parked your car this morning? No, not in the great scheme of things. I think we matter, all of us.

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