If you want to know what makes America great — well, you already know, but if you enjoy being reminded — don’t forget to watch Ellen on ABC tonight at 9 (8 Central).

In what other largely-white country would the most highly paid ($80 million a year?), best respected talk show host (now that Phil is off the air, there’s not even any contest) — Oprah Winfrey, an African-American — be guest-starring on a sitcom in which the lead character, Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen DeGeneres, comes out as a lesbian?

“Yep, I’m gay,” read the cover of Time a couple of weeks ago, with Ellen’s photo.

The point is — obviously — that in America, every good citizen is respected regardless of . . . well, everything. Not that it always works that way in practice, but almost everyone agrees it should. Equal rights and fair play.

The other thing that’s great about America is its ability to change. Until recently, many people thought being gay was (a) a choice and (b) a very bad one. Like choosing to be an idiot or choosing to have everyone despise you. This wasn’t tremendously logical (who would choose to be despised?). Nor did it resonate with most people’s personal experience (most people did not remember a time when they were overwhelmingly attracted to people of their own sex but chose instead to be attracted to the opposite sex).

But taboos run deep.

Anyway, this being America, in a few short years there’s been a tremendous shift in public opinion, not entirely unlike the shift in thinking about equal rights for women. IBM has joined the growing ranks of major corporations adding “sexual orientation” to the explicit list of grounds on which they are committed not to discriminate and providing spousal benefits for same-sex partners.

Of course, much of the country still needs time to get comfortable with this — and should not be too harshly criticized or mocked for that. It’s a lot for some people to get used to — especially those who don’t realize that some of the people they already know and like happen to be gay (like Ellen). As one letter to the editor of the Tampa Tribune put it — speaking for many:

This country continues to spiral downward in moral decay, each day getting worse and worse. Who cares if Ellen is coming out of her little closet? I for one do not and do not want my family seeing all about the so-called alternative lifestyle on TV. People have to take a stand. My family will not watch it, and I’m willing to say many more households will not.” — Johnny Johnson

Or this, to the same paper:

“Ellen” will be aired during the ‘family hour.’ This is not a family show! According to the media, we are supposed to accept same-sex lifestyles, and if we don’t, we are considered ‘homophobic.’ I do not enjoy being in the company of homosexuals, nor do I want them around my children. At one time my views would have been acceptable – even the norm – but now I am considered intolerant and homophobic. I also do not want my children around a pedophile, and yet I have read that it is a tendency that these people are ‘born with.’ Does this make me a ‘pedophilaphobic’? Thank you, Chrysler, for taking a stand and not sponsoring ‘Ellen’! –Cheryl A. Wonderly, Clearwater

It’s not hard to sympathize with Cheryl, but it’s also not hard to see how, with time, she will come around. For one thing, someone is bound to point out to her — be it Ellen or Oprah or Reader’s Digest, or whoever — that pedophilia is repugnant because when a grown man preys on a little girl or boy, he’s clearly doing something terrible to that child. No one is likely ever to ask Cheryl to be respectful of pedophiles, let alone want them around her children. But where is the inherent harm in two adults loving and caring for each other? Who is the injured party there? Most child molesters are heterosexual, yet surely Cheryl wouldn’t object to her children being around heterosexuals, just because some exceptionally tiny proportion of them are pedophiles.

If former Alabama Governor George Wallace can have come around the way he did with blacks, it’s going to be a relative piece of cake for Cheryl to watch Ellen one day and, despite herself, start to laugh . . . and even like her again. Of course, it may be a rerun by that time, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Enough. Being gay myself, I can get very boring on this topic — but not Ellen. Apparently, it’s a very funny episode. ABC. Tonight. Nine o’clock.


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