For Gay Marriage Debate, Old-Fangled TV Trumps New-Fangled Interwebs

Two days ago, New Zealand became the thirteenth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. The amendment to the definition of marriage passed through Parliament with 77 “ayes” and 44 “nays,” following a passionate debate that included quotations of Shakespeare and politicians saying how much their job “rocks.”

MP Maurice Williamson’s speech was the biggest hit of the night, provoking laughter and cheers with lines like this one: “One of the messages that I had was that this bill was the cause of our drought… Well, in the Pakuranga electorate this morning, it was pouring with rain. We had the most enormous big gay rainbow across my electorate.”

After the bill passed, the spectators’ gallery spontaneously burst into a Maori love song. The tears flowed, not all of them mine. It was riveting television.



And that’s the point: It was television. Supplemented, of course, by Twitter -- the #marriageequality hashtag trended globally during the session, with many folks tweeting their near-certain assumption that never before have this many people tuned into Parliament TV.

The event concluded around 9:30 p.m., and my friend and I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. We were halfway through our mugs when my friend’s son, Mr. 14 -- the epically computer-obsessed Mr. 14 -- shouted from behind his nest of screens: “Hey, everybody! Good news! New Zealand just passed gay marriage.”

Friend and I smirked at each other. “Really?” I called back. “When?”

“11 minutes ago.”

“I don’t believe you. How could you possibly have found out so quickly?”

“It’s on the Internet” -- this with that level of smugness perfected by 14-year-olds through the ages, the perfect combination of delight and disdain.

Back and forth it went, with me saying things like, “There’s no way that kind of news could get on the Internet so quickly,” and him saying things like, “Ya-HUH.” Until, finally, it began to dawn on him that something was amiss. He wandered into the living room.

“Did you know about it already?” he asked, a pang of doubt creeping into his voice.

“Yep,” said his mother, gleeful. “We watched it on TELEVISION.”

He was heartbroken. But this is television at its finest: delivering a powerful, real-time moment easily shared by millions. It is enhanced, now, by Twitter, which helps each of us feel more connected to the rest, helps us know that on such a momentous occasion you may be alone in your living room but you are not alone in your experience; you are connected with untold thousands across the country who also fret and care, laugh and cry.

Catching it on the Internet 11 minutes later doesn’t come close. Getting it on the DVR is nothing like it. You can stream it, but why? Pour yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up on the couch, lean back, and enjoy the show. Television may be an old-fashioned medium, but it can still trump a 14-year-old’s Internet, and it’s got a lot of life in it yet.

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