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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Once Outcasts, Gays Enter U.S. Mainstream

They meet at his sister's wedding, start to date, move in together and the relationship deepens to the point where "it's time for a serious dining-room table."

They make an attractive couple, articulate and casual and financially comfortable, and share an easy banter in their fashionable loft apartment with its raw brick walls.

"Steve's more into country -- it frightens me, but at the same time I have compassion," says his partner in America's first mass-consumer television advertising campaign to feature a gay couple.

It may be restricted to after 10 P.M. and it may be advertising a Scandinavian furniture store, but this interesting milestone reflects a deeply important shift in American culture. Gays have made the breakthrough from being some kind of moral or social problem to being an economic opportunity.

The signs are everywhere. At our local drug store, there is a selection of Father's Day cards for "Dad and his lover." The Netherlands are running a tourist ad campaign in American magazines which features gay couples and the copy line: "Wide smiles. Sincere Greetings. From people who respect your choices."

This has been coming for some time. Anyone traveling by metro here last spring was sold a ticket which said "Welcome to the '93 Gay and Lesbian March on D.C." Once anaemic gay magazines began to fatten with consumer ads from American Express, Absolut vodka and automobile manufacturers. This year's Oscar for Best Actor went to Tom Hanks for his portrayal in "Philadelphia" of a lawyer fired because he has AIDS.

Last month, a two-day "Gay and Lesbian Business Expo" in New Jersey attracted the cream of corporate America as exhibitors from AT&T to Xerox, Waldenbooks to Continental Airlines. Continental proudly advertised itself as "the official airline" of the Gay Games in New York, an Olympic-style event that attracted 500,000 spectators.

Gay businessmen thrive. You can even get a Gay Visa credit card, emblazoned with a pink triangle. The magazine racks offer a choice of glossy gay mags, from Out to Genre to Ten Per Cent. If the print medium seems old hat after the IKEA furniture company's dining-room ad, cable television offers Gay Entertainment Television.

But what is being hailed as the last undiscovered billion-dollar niche market has not yet made the final breakthrough fantasized by David Mulryan, who runs a New York ad agency that specializes in the gay market. Mulryan's dream is an ad for McDonald's which features a gay couple taking their children for a meal of Big Macs and Cokes and french fries, as an image of such routine normality that the real point is to sell fast food.

Much of the new orthodoxy about the gay market stems from figures compiled by a Chicago-based group called Overlooked Opinion. Its president and founder, Jeff Vitale, who has done more research into the gay market than anyone else, reckons that its annual value exceeds $500 billion, with a median household income of over $42,000 for men and over $46,000 for women. "This is prototypically a dual-income, no kids household. This is a household with money to spend," Vitale says.

We are watching the unfolding of a profoundly American process, the transformation of another minority group from an identity based on a civil-rights question to one that looks as if it will be answered by economic opportunity. Whenever there are enough of them, dollars know no discrimination.