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Why Gay Marriage Is Such A Big Fucking Deal

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In the grand scheme of American politics, the gay marriage issue seems like it should really be a footnote. It affects so few people, how could it be so important?

The question is simple enough, right? Either you think same-sex marriage is a symbol of plummeting morality and the decline of Western Civilization, or you see it as a fundamental human right. Like abortion or gun control, it’s not a subject that lends itself to much middle ground.

And with 10.2% unemployment, a war raging in Afghanistan, and the worst mass-murder on a military base in US history having just occurred, it might seem trivial to discuss it. And if you’re not gay, why should you care?

Well, a few days ago, voters in Maine shamefully denied same-sex marriage rights, as they have done in all 31 states where the question has made it to the ballot. This completely mocks the idea of equal protection under the law, and exposes the tyranny of the majority–what my sister called the “fly in the soup” of democracy. And I will demonstrate that this is no empty metaphor.

To put it in perspective, let’s start with something that should send a chill up the spine of every American–even in “red” states: Opposition to gay marriage is what gave George W. Bush a second term. And the second Bush term is what plunged us into the “Great Recession.” Lest you think I’m overstating the case, Bush’s own Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in 2008 in this report:

The turmoil in financial markets clearly was triggered by a dramatic weakening of underwriting standards for U.S. subprime mortgages, beginning in late 2004 and extending into early 2007. (emphasis added)

Most of this gross malfeasance took place under the second Bush term. And it cost Republicans dearly in the 2008 election. It’s also a well-known political fact that John Kerry lost the state of Ohio in 2004 because of aggressive pastoral support for the Ohio Marriage Amendment. While other factors may have played some role in the outcome, both academics and Catholics acknowledged that the marriage amendment is what gave Bush the edge.

From The Religion Card: Evangelicals, Catholics, and Gay Marriage in the 2004 Presidential Election, Notre Dame University, Brigham Young University:

Does George W. Bush owe his re-election to the groundswell of opposition to gay marriage? We find that while gay marriage was not necessarily the most important factor overall and did not matter equally for every voter, it did matter to white evangelical Christians and Catholics. Specifically, evangelicals and Catholics were more likely to turn out to vote in states with a gay marriage ban on the ballot.

Catholic News Service article:

But when it was all said and done, 22 percent of all voters across the United States picked “moral values” as the most important issue facing the nation, followed by the economy and jobs (20 percent) and the war on terrorism (19 percent). Eighty percent of those who saw moral values as the most important issue voted for Bush, according to post-election data released by the National Election Pool.

Eleven state ballots included measures similar to the Federal Marriage Amendment, revising state constitutions to limit marriage to its traditional definition. The measure was approved in all 11 states, including Ohio, where a Bush win secured his victory in the Electoral College, (emphasis added) and eight other states won by Bush.

“Clearly the supporters of traditional marriage helped President Bush down the aisle to a second term,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Why can’t they just have civil unions? What’s the big deal about calling themselves “married?”

In the runup to California’s infamous Prop. 8, someone I once greatly respected asked me this question in a disparaging manner. I lost my respect for them in a big hurry. It’s amazing how similar this sentiment is to labeling African-Americans “uppity” for wanting full equality. “Separate but equal” doctrines were struck down by Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. Still it took until 1964 for full equality under the law to take effect with the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

1964 was the year of my birth, which means it’s been my entire lifetime since this issue was legally settled. Yet Americans still quibble over whether gay people are worthy of having their rights protected. Slightly over half of voters in at least 31 states feel they are not.

On the same day Maine decided to scrap its marriage law, Washington voters narrowly approved a separate-but-equal version, granting all domestic partners the same rights and obligations as married couples. I’m happy about the historic passage of Washington R-71, but even though it marks the first time recognition of gay unions has ever succeeded at the ballot box, it’s bittersweet. Gays can now have ‘weddings’ legally in Washington, but they still can’t drink from the same champagne fountain.

“He is entitled to his opinion”

The young son of a friend of mine posted his opposition to gay marriage on a Facebook poll. I took issue with it, told him he was homophobic, and ended up hearing back from the father: “He assures me that he is not homophobic.  He simply opposes granting special status to gay unions by legalizing them as marriages.” And that “there is plenty of reason for well-meaning people to differ on this one.  He is entitled to his opinions and, at fourteen, I would expect him to evolve as he grows up.”

I hope so. But in this case, it’s pretty damn clear that the young man had been influenced not only by his peers and locale (a strong red state), but also by the attitudes of his parents. And I’m not sure I agree at all with the idea that “well-meaning people” can differ. I think being opposed to gay marriage entirely excludes a person from the category of “well-meaning.” Exactly what “well-meaning” or humanitarian goal is being served by denying an entire class of Americans the right to join one of civilization’s most important legally-defined subgroups? How does such a “well-meaning person” sleep better at night knowing they’ve seriously degraded someone else’s quality of life–a state of affairs they could reverse at zero cost to their own well being?

Just as blacks were once considered by many Americans to be sub-human, so are gay people today. And this exclusionary attitude should be treated by all “well-meaning people” with utter contempt. The fiction that such opinions are within the range of acceptable dialog serves only to reinforce and prolong bigotry.

What about the children?

In an article about the Maine vote, political consultant Frank Schubert (who was also instrumental in passing California’s Prop. 8 ) said he discovered a deep vein of fear and disgust while conducting focus groups on the issue.

Schubert said he had an ah-ha moment in California when a focus group watched a campaign commercial featuring a Massachusetts couple who described how their 7-year-old son came home from school and explained that a man can marry another man, something he learned in a children’s book.

One of the members of the focus group shook his head, and Schubert asked the moderator to inquire. The participant said he would be angry if something like that that happened to his kids.

“So that was sort of a light-bulb moment, that this education issue was really going to be a powerful one for us,” said Schubert, who with Flint was named the “public affairs team of the year” for 2009 by the American Association of Political Consultants.

I talked about this on Facebook, and one friend of mine–who has four delightful kids–wrote “Kids should be taught about sex – period! Enough with the lies and denial, kids are aware of sex and if you put fairy wings on everything they will think that sex is a shameful thing.” I replied with the following comment:

I agree. Careful surveys (or eavesdropping) should be done to figure out at what age kids are already talking amongst themselves about sex. Then schools and parents should pre-empt them slightly with better information. But that would be using logic.

Never happen in a million years. Parents seem to experience an epidemic of prudishness when their kids are young. And that’s a trait that crosses the liberal-conservative divide.

Parents, if you don’t like being seen that way, then do something about it!

There’s an interesting herd phenomenon in social psychology that people act as if the group is more prudish than they are. To avoid being viewed as crass or amoral, they profess to be offended by something long before it actually offends them. They are more concerned with having the “correct” response to something that is seen as controversial than about authentically expressing their own opinion, particularly when it involves a risque topic.

And all it takes is one person to ratchet up the prude factor in a group of parents. It’s far easier to provoke a group shaming response than one of acceptance. We all know this, know it’s a problem, but there seems to be no way to fix it. “For the children” seems to be the most prominent thought-stopping tactic in politics.

So the end result is that anything about expanding sex education or reducing the age at which it is offered is political kryptonite.

Standing for Liberty and Freedom

We Americans seem pretty pleased with ourselves, as if we were some kind of bastion of liberty and freedom–a beacon to the world. Horseshit. We must recognize that the greatness of our society is measured specifically in how we treat our pariahs–gays, Muslims, atheists, and illegal immigrants. We must learn to be very disturbed as long as any American minority is committing suicide at several times the rate of other citizens (as gays do). Lives are literally at stake. And that’s not all.

There once was a Republican Unity Coalition, way back in 2001, dedicated to making sexual orientation a “non-issue” in the GOP. It was chaired by Alan Simpson, joined by former President Gerald Ford, and counted such prominent members as John Danforth, Mary Matalin and Diane Ravitch. But that was before–before the religious right devoured the soul of the former party of Lincoln and Eisenhower. The “Log Cabin Republicans” have likely never seen a worse time in the party’s history. Why can’t today’s arch-conservatives remember the words of President Ford?

I think they ought to be treated equally, Period. I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party. I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections.

But Ford did not forsee the rise of the exact inverse strategy: today’s relentless wedge politics. The story of how the radicals stole the party from the moderates is outlined in Max Blumenthal’s horrifying book Republican Gomorrah. Ford couldn’t have grasped the towering ideological collapse of a party which could so quickly be seduced by the scent of raw power into straying so far from its principles of limited government and individual rights.

But we had better learn to understand why and how they are succeeding. First and foremost, we’d better come up with a better rejoinder to help American parents get rid of their squeamishness over their children learning about gay marriage and gay sex. Whether it’s actually taught in schools or not is irrelevant. Many parents have bought into the idea (or fear) that it will be. If we can’t beat them on this messaging challenge, the radical Tea Party Republicans will milk this issue again and again and again to put their people in power and roll back progress on everything we hold dear: health care, the climate, renewable energy, corporate accountability and a host of other vital issues.


Comments (21 comments)

ClintJCL / November 8th, 2009, 12:08 am / #1

I agree completely. I've had to explain the water fountain thing to family members befoore. Some people just don't get that separate but equal isn't good enough. The South Park episode lambasted this concept when they allowed gay marraige, "But instead of being called hsuband and wife, you will be called butt-buddies." Making fun of the idea that something that has to be called a different name can ever actually be equal.

BlackSun / November 8th, 2009, 6:56 pm / #2

Good point Clint! And I still loved the South Park episode. Those guys skewer everyone, even atheists, and I love them for it. You have to take it with a grain of salt, it doesn't always hold perfect philosophical water. Though I really enjoyed the book "South Park and Philosophy." Check it out.

Ralph Schnell / November 8th, 2009, 6:49 am / #3

Just let them get married! You can still debate philosophically whether they're equal for the rest of your life if you hate them so much!

BlackSun / November 8th, 2009, 6:57 pm / #4

Ralph, I think the South Park episode was making the opposite point. And yes, let them get married!

AmenASHandFree / November 8th, 2009, 8:45 am / #5

Never knew Ford ever made such a comment ! So glad to know it now ! I'm definitly using it when I have to ! Enough is enough people need to stop being unfair and rediculous to each other in name of religion. For goodness sake get for real anti-gay opinionist's we know ur opinion is religion based ! Do you realy believe ur God is going to allow the Bible to continue to outplay itself from the minds that follow it ! It can't, the mind of fairness & love won't alow it ! So many new evangelical churches r accepting of gay rights that the future will never prosper with u folks opposing what nature is forcing. Ur just hurting urselfs in the long run because when u look back u will have to face how u voted, opinionated, affected, hurt these people & their children. CHILDREN R INVOLVED IN GAY PEOPLES LIVES DUH Least u hurt one of these my children it is better u wrap a rope around ur neck & throw urself in the water…it's in the Bible u all follow……ADULTS THEY RUIN ALL THE FUN IN LIVING! & SREWED UP KIDS R SCREWED UP BECAUSE OF ALL THIS ADULT NON-SENSE

Nancy R / November 8th, 2009, 5:34 pm / #6

Civil Union is NOT equal to marriage in the eyes of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

If you want to visit your loved one in prison under the "Family Visit" rules you must be either a blood relative or LEGALLY MARRIED. CDCR does not recognize civil union in allowing Family Visits.

BlackSun / November 8th, 2009, 6:58 pm / #7

Great point, and also think about how this impacts spousal immigration.

AmenASHandFree / November 9th, 2009, 3:11 pm / #8

Unfortunatly the truth is the magority still don't understand & care about those in jail. If they did it still wouldn't be run the way they are.

Tyler / November 8th, 2009, 11:44 pm / #9

I was given The Talk by my parents when I was very young, and my parents being progressive gave me the whole thing, I presume, to let me know if I realized I was gay (I'm not), they would accept me. Point being, I was young enough so that sex, WHOEVER was involved, was gross and bizarre. I'm pretty sure the fact that I was told about sex before entering adolescence preempted any prudery I may have held against gay people- I grew up with the notion love and sex are different things, and people don't fall in love necessarily in order to have sex.

Anyway, I'm still trying to figure out how a nation of people who KNOW the sky is blue is being run by people too fearful and resentful of the rest of us to leave their windowless shelter. Maybe we're the ones at a disadvantage- for us, the sky is one color only. For those in the windowless shelter, the sky can be any color they want! Such freedom! ;)

kubathemaster / December 3rd, 2009, 6:43 pm / #10

Lordy the world aint progressed much since the time of Christ, its full of hypocrits washing their hands of issues
and thinking they are supreme beings only interested in what they can get out of life in a life time at anyones
expense-

m00t / December 28th, 2009, 4:56 am / #11

Hmm. I have to post here, because I only see two opinions, neither of which is mine.

The State should never have been involved in a church institution (such as marriage) because of things like this. Marriage is, to many churchgoers, a deal between two people and God, and there’s no reason the State should have ever put its two cents in.

Of course, now that straight people have been getting married for centuries, gays HAVE to be allowed to marry as well, or the State isn’t treating people fairly.

Now, there are those who want gays to be “officially” not worth as much as they are. Which is their right to believe–just not their right to impose on anybody via government.

There are others, however, who don’t actually have anything against gays, people who just see marriage as being a religious thing, not a secular one. Even among Episcopalians, who officially support gay marriages and will perform wedding ceremonies for those people, they probably still see marriage as being up to them (or God), and not something that Congress can change. So don’t be so hard on that friend’s kid; maybe he just thinks his church and not his government should tell him what a marriage is and what it’s about.

As a comparison, there were people in Civil War America who used “States’ Rights” as a cover for wanting to own slaves, but there were also people who legitimately believed in states’ rights, so it’s wrong to assume that all the latter were secretly the former.

My solution is, nationwide, relinquish the term “marriage” as a state function. People can still get married in a church, just not in a City Hall. All state functions previously known as “marriages” are now referred to as “civil unions”, and are available whether you are gay or straight, married or handfasted, two people or three, for love or for convenience. Bond, share finances, and live with anyone, for any reason, in any way, legally. Things that are between you and God aren’t anyone else’s business.

Then, everyone would be equal in the eyes of the law, the government could let churches define marriage however they wanted, and the churches that wouldn’t marry gays could just keep doing that until their 65+ patrons were buried and the churches were empty.

Agree?

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Virginia / April 5th, 2010, 6:14 am / #13

I disagree I would not feel comfortable having my son raised or have interaction around gay males simply because they are always trying to act so feminine. IF only they would drop the act.

BlackSun / April 5th, 2010, 6:37 am / #14

Actually, it could only help your son to be able to step outside traditional gender roles. It's a big world out there.

Virginia / April 5th, 2010, 6:23 am / #15

GAY men are always portrayed as being promiscuous, thus the uneasy feeling that non gay people feel. I usually have a certain level of disgust around an overly 'queen'. Gives me the impression of mental defect. I think this is why I don;t think it can be a right. NEW WORLD ORDER would prescribe promoting gayness because it is another form of population control. I think every one should be free to make choices, but gays pushing the religious envelope of marriage is really retarded. Why do you need it so bad? Make up your own traditions and justify / legitimize them. Who started the Kwanzaa movement? I don't know but it is looking more and more as a justified accepted holiday.

BlackSun / April 5th, 2010, 6:28 am / #16

Virginia, this is a weak argument from personal distaste. You could take away the rights of any minority you didn't like using that logic. But that doesn't hold water in a society with constitutional protection for minorities.

AmenASHandFree / April 5th, 2010, 7:10 pm / #17

The American Dream is a Fantasy as the Bible is…..

solomon / September 2nd, 2010, 11:48 pm / #18

Gays have soul disorders.

Guest / April 10th, 2010, 3:52 pm / #19

Virginia, most gay males do not act effeminate; most gay males act like every other male. The problem is that people incorrectly assume those non-effeminate males are all straight because they're not acting the way they're typically "portrayed."

Doris Tracey / August 3rd, 2013, 10:26 am / #20

Everyone who lives under the american constitution has the right to life liberty and the persuit of happiness including the pre-born. I myself do not think it is a normal attraction. There might be something defective with the plus and minus attraction in gay people, but they have a right to work out their desires like anyone else. As buddha says, desire is the cause of all suffering.

Doris Tracey / July 31st, 2015, 1:40 pm / #21

Gay marriage is just an illusion, filled with sadness and confusion! What becomes of the broken hearted who had love that is now departed. I know we all have to find some kind of peace of mind… baby.

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