With landmark legal rulings upholding the civil rights of gays and lesbians, and a plethora of gay-centric hit television shows, 2003 will surely go down as one of the most significant years in queer history. The single biggest story of the year is without doubt the 6-3 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which finally struck down arcane sodomy laws in 13 states, and in doing so, firmly established that GLBT Americans are entitled to the same constitutional right to privacy as heterosexuals. Equal protection under the law is hardly a radical notion, but the decision was greeted as such by both supporters and opponents of gay rights. Sen. Rick Santorum led the conservative backlash against the decision with his infamous, hysterical prediction that it would soon render bestiality and incest legal, and was rewarded for his remarks by President Bush, who, when asked about Santorum’s tirade against gays, said he was “doing a good job as senator.” The Supreme Court’s decision got its first road test in a much-anticipated November Massachusetts high court ruling which found that a ban on gay marriage violated the Massachusetts Constitution, and ordered the state Legislature to create a provision for same-sex couples to legally marry. This ruling, which will likely spur similar challenges in other states — as well as counter-efforts to codify marriage as a solely heterosexual privilege in state constitutions — received only lukewarm support from most Democratic presidential candidates, including Howard Dean, who signed the nation’s first civil unions law while governor of Vermont. Only Gen. Wesley Clark and Dennis Kucinich went further, embracing equal civil rights for all Americans. Unless President Bush makes good on his promise earlier this month to support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, it seems unlikely that GLBT issues will get any attention in next year’s election. As important as these legal decisions may be, the many pundits declaring that 2003 is the beginning of a new era for gays are giving credit not to the six Supreme Court justices who struck down sodomy laws, but to five motor-mouthed lifestyle gurus on a mission to save straight men from their slovenly selves. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy quickly became a mainstream smash-hit, even with people openly uncomfortable with gays or gay culture. It can be argued, however, that the show’s popularity is not due to any newfound legal or cultural acceptance of gays. Quite the opposite: Gays (and only gay men) are to be tolerated as long as they conform to the tired old stereotypes that all gay men are urbane, witty and white, and put on earth as some kind of elite servant class to coif, dress, counsel and entertain straight people. Queer Eye is admittedly fun to watch, but it’s hardly changing the way America eyes queer people. The December issue of Vanity Fair breathlessly announcing “TV’s Gay Heatwave!” features the stars of Queer Eye — including Carmel High School grad and Fab Five food expert Ted Allen — plus the cast of Will and Grace, the show widely credited with jump-starting the queer TV revolution. The steamy cover photograph is not evidence of how far gays have come in American culture, so much as how far they still have to go. Not only is everyone in the image white and aesthetically pleasing, the only women included (Debra Messing and Megan Mullally from Will and Grace) play straight characters on a gay-centric show. The image makes clear that although an official cultural niche has been carved out for gay, white, upper-class men, there is still no place in popular culture for lesbians, queer people of color or older GLBT people of any gender. Perhaps the most telling sign that “the year of the queer” wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be was the controversy that erupted when The Indianapolis Star ran an article in July about a Hendricks County lesbian couple who went to Canada to be married. The article included what is undoubtedly among the most chaste photographs of two people kissing ever taken, and when a few homophobic zealots wrote in to complain, The Star immediately caved and issued an apology to readers for running such a provocative image in a “family newspaper.” Although the Supreme Court and Massachusetts rulings may eventually force Indiana to broaden its legal definition of family to include queers, The Star incident suggests that it’s going to take much more than a few hit TV shows to foster genuine acceptance of queer people in Indiana.