Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Queer Bashing for America

The liberal media (the real liberal media, I mean) are much exercised these days with analyzing and dissecting the November 2nd Election Fiasco. “How could we have lost?” they ask. Or, as Slate so depressingly put it: “Why Americans Hate Democrats.”

What they all seem to agree on is: it’s not the gays. The line goes something like: Everyone thinks that the election was decided on “Moral Values” i.e. God, Guns & Gays. But that’s not it. The real reason is…

Is it just me, or is there something a little creepy going on here? The rush to change the subject by these liberal commentators leads me to suspect that there is a place deep in their psyches where they are thinking: It is the gays. They had to go push the marriage button in an election year. Why couldn’t they just wait? But of course, they can’t say that – not and continue to be good liberals.

I suppose being a conservative would be a lot easier in a number of ways. One of those is being freed from wrestling with fears and intolerance. Today’s conservatism tends to an open-ended rant, an unmediated stream of the Id’s consciousness, punctuated by tax cuts. Conservatives who feel ooky about gay people find their insecurities elevated to the status of Moral Values. Liberals on the other hand are bound by both reason and fairness, and maybe a little guilt. But this doesn’t mean that they can’t feel a little ooky too.

Recently a particularly ugly attempt to exploit this inner ookiness appeared in the Washington Post. An “advertising supplement” trying really hard to look like one of those magazine inserts called BothSides Magazine was tucked away inside the paper. It argues that the campaign for gay and lesbian civil rights –the Selfish Hedonists - is demeaning to African-Americans, whose grievances are real.

It certainly is the case that on a number of occasions gays rights activists have sought to explain their claims using the language and example of the Black civil rights movements. Of course, racism and homophobia are not the same in many ways. One is deeply rooted in the foundational institutions of our nation and functions, in part, to create and maintain a permanent underclass. The other lives in the more ephemeral, but no less real, psycho-sexual national culture and seeks to stop a class of people from being or at least being that way. Yet despite differing histories, natures, functions and structures, the common thread of humanity and culture means that there remain meaningful bases for comparison and contrast. The authors of the insert are exploiting the misconception that to compare is to equate. They’re hoping that a significant number of African-Americans won’t be happy about being equated with gays and lesbians. And even if that largely fails, it gives cover to those who want to be anti-gay without needing to feel bigoted.

There are two parallel problems here.

No doubt many conservatives felt elated on November 3rd after learning that eleven more states have written gay bashing into their constitutions and their laws. But this elation, by its nature, must be short lived. No one in Ohio who was unemployed on November 2nd was employed on November 3rd because of their amendment. No one in Oregon who was without health insurance got covered. No one in Michigan who had marital difficulties had their problems disappear. And no one in Georgia with a rebellious teen in the family will find their son or daughter magically transformed into a model of courtesy and respect because gay people can’t marry. In short, these ballot initiatives did not improve the content or conduct of anyone’s life. And that fact will be shortly inescapable. There is no answer for this except for another bite at the apple. If taking a swipe at gay people helped to ease the pain once, why not try it again? Or, maybe it’s time to move a little closer to taking away women’s reproductive rights. Or, hey, it’s been a while since we scapegoated poor people. The short lasting effects of this legal gay bashing can be seen by a recent call by the Catholic bishops to shore up heterosexual marriage. Already queer bashing is not enough.

Liberals, no doubt, understand the extent to which these “Moral Values” issues are being used as a distraction from the real problems with moral dimensions – poverty, war and injustice, to name a few. And it isn’t just cynical Republicans using gays as a wedge issue. People want to be distracted. Dealing with all those problems, well, in the words of the President, it’s hard work.

Yet it is this very sense that gay rights issues constitute a "distraction" from the "real" or "important" issues that leads me to suspect that an inner ookiness lives under that surface of many liberal commentators.

Here’s what I was hoping to hear from at least one non-gay liberal commentator: the trouble with the Democrats is not that they’re too pro-gay, it’s that they’re not pro-gay enough. Kerry’s position that he didn’t favor same-sex marriage, but he sorta favored civil unions was, as articulated, morally incoherent. On this issue, as with so many others, the Democratic Party is triangulating on a position based on polls – trying to stake out a position that appeals to something called The Center but that their base can stomach. But The Center is an arbitrary reference point, not a set of ideas. Ideas and values need to be articulated not triangulated.

We believe in fairness and equality. We respect the right of individuals to live their lives according to their own beliefs. A same-sex couple that has committed to sharing their lives are not strangers. The law should not treat them like strangers. We should not impose a legal fiction on these couples just because some conservatives really want them to be like strangers, just because it makes some people feel a little ooky.
How about taking a moral stand?

More than anything, this is why Democrats lost ground when they should have gained. A startling large number of people where attracted to Bush because he seemed to stand for something, even if that something was a something they didn’t exactly agree with. Democrats need to be able to say clearly: this is why we are Democrats, this is what we stand for. Standing for equality against the forces of intolerance is the right thing to do. And we don’t care how it plays in the swing states.

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