Hate Us Because of Our Freedoms
By The Plaid Adder
didn't want my first column to be about gay marriage.
Now that DU has been rash enough to give me a weekly column,
I have been having all kinds of grandiose dreams about how
to launch it. There are so many issues out there that are
so much more important than gay marriage - like the occupation
in Iraq, for instance, which harvests more human lives on
all sides of the conflict with every day that passes, and
which just this weekend appears to have entered a new and
terrifying phase. Or the increasingly insane and desperate
measures being taken by the Bush administration to cover up
the 'bad news' coming out of Iraq. Or the fact that the Bush
administration is pumping billion after billion into the war
chests while systematically gutting education, environmental
protection, and anything else that might actually improve
life for the bottom 98% of America.
All of these things are more important, in the grand scheme
of things, than whether or not I will ever be able to finally
marry my partner of 15 years and counting. And really, you
know, I have logged so many hours trying to fend off the religious
right's attempts to render me and all of my fellow GBLT Americans
miserable, I just plain get tired of the whole issue.
So why am I talking about gay marriage? Because the Republican
party has decided that gay marriage is going to be a major
issue in the 2004 election cycle. Apparently, they
feel that preventing me from ever legally solemnizing the
most important relationship in my life is very important.
Much more important than finding out whether or not the Bush
administration lied about their reasons for going to war,
or turning the economy around, or finding a solution to the
current stalemate in Iraq, or making health care affordable
to the increasingly huge number of Americans who are going
without it. Preventing gay marriage is so important,
in fact, that we need to amend the Constitution in order to
make sure that neither I nor any other queer in this country
will ever be able to marry.
OK, an anti-gay referendum here, an anti-gay statute there,
we're used to that. We get angry, we organize, we fight it,
it passes anyway because most American politicians don't have
the huevos to stand up for gay rights even if they might personally
support them, we sigh and move on. But when we start talking
about writing one of these things into the foundational document
of our democracy, well, that's a pretty nasty October surprise.
The Constitution is not a toy. Amending it is a serious
business. You would think the Republicans, so renowned for
their love and defense of states' rights, would understand
that - and be a little alarmed at the push for this particular
amendment. After all, the immediate purpose of this amendment
is not to prevent same-sex unions from being recognized as
marriages at the federal level; the Defense of Marriage Act,
passed lo these many years ago in response to the initial
gay-marriage panic, already ensures that same-sex unions are
not recognized outside the borders of the state in which they
are solemnized. (It is true that they may well be a tad worried
that someone will eventually figure out that DOMA violates
the "full faith and credit" clause and is therefore unconstitutional...
but so far, that doesn't seem to have happened.) This amendment
has one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to prevent
individual states from recognizing same-sex unions or bestowing
legal rights upon them if they choose to do so.
Don't believe me? Here's the language of the proposed amendment:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only
of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this [C]onstitution
[n]or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal
law, shall be construed to require that marital status or
the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples
This isn't just about trademarking the word 'marriage.'
The only reason this amendment needs a second sentence is
to make damn sure that no state tries to sneak any of those
civil rights or legal protections through the back door by
attaching them to a 'civil union' or 'domestic partnership'
or some other kind of consolation prize that they could make
available to same-sex couples. To promote an amendment that
is going to seriously undermine the states' ability to write
their own family law - which has traditionally been a state
thing rather than a federal thing - is rather a turnaround
for the states' rights folks. Last time they decided to favor
expediency over principle on this issue was when they were
trying to prevent Florida from counting its own chad. At that
point, the Presidency was at stake. So one has to ask: what's
at stake for them this time? Why is this so important
It's not as if we're not willing to share. At no point has
any gay rights organization ever unveiled a Let No Het Get
Hitched Initiative. We have no problem with hetersosexual
relationships. Many heterosexuals are fine upstanding members
of their communities and lead rich, fulfilling lives, and
we believe they have every right to celebrate their unions
and enjoy all the legal rights and privileges associated with
marriage. But the way you hear the right talk about marriage,
you'd think it was a stuffed animal that two children are
fighting over in the back seat of a car. "MINE!" "No, MINE!"
"It's MINE and you can't have it!" "There, look, now you've
ripped its head off." Somehow, giving us even a little teensy
bit of marriage - even just a few scraps of it that we can
stitch together into a civil union or a domestic partnership
- will leave none left over for them.
Logically speaking, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
You can make the argument that if, say, a particular religion
should hold that homosexuality is a sin, they should not be
forced to solemnize homosexual marriages. Sure. Pisses me
off that my own church takes that attitude, but hey, just
as I would not want them to be forced to stop exhorting parishioners
to give to the poor because that would violate the Republicans'
new Leave No Child So Much As A Pork Rind Act, I'll agree
that they shouldn't start celebrating same-sex marriages until
the Holy Two-By-Four finally descends from heaven to smite
the leadership with a clue.
What does not make any sense, in a secular society that supposedly
does not have a national religion and wants to keep church
and the state separate, is to allow these same churches to
hoard legal and civil rights. We don't let churches decide
who can vote; why should they decide who gets health benefits?
Let the churches ban homosexual marriage or accept it depending
on how individual denominations feel, and let us get married
in the county courthouse. Hell, we'll even call it something
else if it will make you feel better. As long as we get the
same legal protections that straight couples get, who cares
what phrase they're attached to - and what skin is that off
your ecclesiastical nose?
Well, the answer is out there, if you have the stomach to
read the stuff that the religious right spews on their own
websites. The Family Research Council, some of the good people
who brought you National Marriage Protection Week not too
long ago, explain why same-sex marriage - even if it's called
something else - would undermine heterosexual marriage:
[T]he popular myth that a homosexual orientation
is fixed at birth and unchangeable may have blinded us to
the fact that many supposed 'homosexuals' have, in fact, had
perfectly functional heterosexual marriages. And as Globe
columnist Jeff Jacoby points out, 'In another time or another
state, some of those marriages might have worked out. The
old stigmas, the universal standards that were so important
to family stability, might have given them a fighting chance.
Without them, they were left exposed and vulnerable.'
In other words, recognizing same-sex unions would lead to
fewer gay people entering, or remaining, in heterosexual marriages...
and causing themselves, their partners, and their children
all kinds of upset and misery. That's strange, I hear you
cry, I always thought that what was preventing homosexuals
from getting into heterosexual marriages was, you know, homosexuality.
But I guess that was just a "popular myth."
Well, the thing is, the good people at the FRC are right...
and at the same time, horribly wrong. What they are basically
saying in this FAQ of theirs is that anything that our society
does to make being an out gay American easier is going to
encourage more gay people to accept their identities, come
out, and lead honest lives - whereas in the good old days,
when being out was slightly less dangerous than running with
the bulls in Pamplona, comparatively few people had the courage
to lead openly gay lives. Instead, many got married and lived
like heterosexuals, except for that constant inner torment
thing. The fact that this system promoted rampant adultery,
to say nothing of misery, alcoholism, and suicide, is apparently
a small price to pay for the pleasure of not ever having to
acknowledge the fact homosexuality is real, that it is not
something 'chosen,' and that you cannot make it disappear
simply by punishing it.
And that's what's really at stake here. The passage of this
amendment would make life for gay people in this country much,
much more difficult - and not just by denying them the 'legal
incidents' of marriage, although that would certainly be a
problem for, say, same-sex couples who had adopted children.
The Constitution has traditionally been amended in order to
expand civil liberties and confer legal rights
on previously disenfranchised Americans. Except for Prohibition
- which, I point out, was regretted and repealed - this amendment,
should it pass, would be the first time in American history
that we had amended the Constitution for the sole purpose
of limiting the rights of a particular group of Americans.
The message would be clear: You are officially second-class
citizens. Dignity? Forget it. Equality? Not for you, suckers.
Sodomy laws? You bet! Lawrence v. Texas? A momentary aberration
that can easily be set right under the new Constitution.
It is at this point in the argument that I always end up
raising the question that has for fifteen years been sitting
like a lump of lead at the bottom of my discouraged heart:
Why is it that the right hates us so much that it wants to
put this much effort into hosing us this way?
Could it be simple jealousy? Could it be that they begrudge
us the ability to approach sex as something other than a procreative
duty? Could it be that they too wish that they could recognize
their own bodily desires, accept them, and act on them instead
of constantly struggling to mortify them? Is that why they
constantly insist that gays and lesbians choose to be homosexual
and that if we wanted to, we could choose to be heterosexual
- because somehow to them we represent a fantasy of complete
freedom, in which sexuality is willed rather than compelled
and we have complete control over who we desire and how? Are
they secretly chafing in their own heterosexual marriages,
simmering in the resentful heat at the core of their own nuclear
families? Do they, indeed, hate us because of our freedoms?
I don't know. It has always been hard for me to understand
why the fact that I have done my best for fifteen years to
faithfully love and cherish a beautiful, good, hardworking
woman whose love in turn has inspired me to become a better
person, and even, dare I say it, a better citizen, than I
would ever have otherwise been, I constitute some kind of
menace to society. And when I think about how every day in
1993 I woke up to some new piece of idiocy about why gays
and lesbians are so dangerous that they cannot be allowed
in the armed forces, and reflect that ten years later we are
still having the same fucking conversation, it can get pretty
depressing. It's hard, some days, to believe that this amendment
won't pass, when I know how politically costly it is for any
politician to oppose such a thing. And it is hard not to have
dreams of heading north to freedom. But something in me just
balks at the idea of being driven out of my own country by
So I take it back. They've talked me into it. That stupid
amendment is an important issue. It's about whether
this country is going to be a place I can live in. It's about
whether we are going to be a secular society or just go ahead
and admit that the fundamentalists run the joint. It's about
whether we are going to get used to chipping away at the ideals
embodied in the Constitution - not just through regrettable
laws like the Patriot Act, but by rewriting the document itself.
It's about whether, for the rest of my life, every time there's
an election cycle, I will have to listen to the right drag
me and the woman I love and all of our fellow-GBLT Americans
through the mud just to get votes. It's about what kind of
society we want to become. So as weary as I am of fighting
this battle, off I go, once more unto the breach. May our
victory be swift and decisive, so that I can finally devote
my full attention to all the other battles.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting
an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the
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