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They Hate Us Because of Our Freedoms
October 29, 2003
By The Plaid Adder

I 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 or groups.

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 to them?

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 these people.

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 same can be found at the Adder's Lair.

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