Tuesday, October 31, 2006
by Wayne Besen
One of the biggest election stories of 2006 was the non-story of the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision to offer the equivalent of Civil Unions to gay couples. What was most striking about the ruling was the lack of shock value compared to the title wave of raw emotion that gripped the nation when Vermont's high court mandated a similar judicial remedy in 1999.
The news broke at 3PM, so I expected major coverage that evening on the network news. However, the story did not air on NBC until the broadcast was more than two-thirds finished. And, when the topic was finally addressed, it was a short reader from anchor Brian Williams. If you quickly pranced off to the bathroom or momentarily zoned out, you might have missed the story altogether.
Meanwhile, the mess in Mesopotamia dominated the first two blocks of that same newscast, with October's death toll of American troops surpassing one hundred. This is a nightmare for a Republican party desperate to make hay out of all things gay by focusing obsessively on New Jersey. But things are now so bad in Baghdad that even Karl Rove, the master of homophobic campaigns, is having a difficult time averting the nation's gaze to focus on the gays.
The laughable line that conservative pundits are now pushing is that the Garden State ruling will mobilize previously depressed social conservative voters. The conventional wisdom is that this was a shot in the arm that will jumpstart the Pat Robertson crowd to vote in force.This expectation is as irrational as it is unreasonable. Why would a weak and politically safe New Jersey civil unions ruling provide motivation to vote if 8,000 real marriage licenses already issued in Massachusetts weren't doing the trick?
Sure, it did put the issue back in the headlines, but it was merely an ephemeral two day story that likely had no lasting impact. I'm not saying that the timing of the ruling was helpful, but it is turning out to be more of a wedgie than a wedge issue - a minor annoyance, but certainly not a divisive debate that could determine the outcome of a crucial election.
If anything, the New Jersey decision weakened the religious right's overplayed hand on this issue. It is hard to make the case that Kansas is in danger of honeymooning homos when the GLBT community can't even win full marriage rights from one of the most liberal courts in the nation.The dust is nearly settled and it appears that the path to marriage rights will run through state capitals.
In the next fifteen years we are likely to hear less about marriage, while we see the enactment of Civil Unions or domestic partnership laws.This is because the GLBT community has finally convinced mainstream Americans that they are worthy of similar relationship benefits, such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights. However, we have not cleared the tall hurdle of persuading a majority that we can share the M-Word without wrecking the institution more than they already have.
Of course, we will eventually win this battle. But it is increasingly apparent that GLBT people will be forced to run the requisite minority obstacle course until the masses finally understand that creating a system of different laws for different people is inherently unfair and discriminatory.
At the federal level, the marriage debate is officially dead. If a Beltway packed to the rafters with Bible Belt Republicans could not pass the Federal Marriage Amendment following the Massachusetts decision, it is highly unlikely to happen now. Congress already passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which stipulates that a state does not have to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state. And supposedly friendly courts, such as Washington State and New York, sided against equality.
In essence, the conservative principle of states rights will be the prism in which this battle is increasingly played out. This will make it more and more difficult to use gay marriage as a national political football. After all, what is the use of a Federal Marriage Amendment when the battles are taking place in state legislatures?
In the midterm elections, it will be an uphill battle to drum up support on the New Jersey decision when most of the electorate considers the issue so humdrum. The GOP attack machine can be as uncivil as they like, but Civil Unions no longer cause fright or have the bite to unite Prozac Protestants who have found the Congressional Republican leadership as depressing as the rest of Americans.New Jersey represented one of the GLBT community's last great hopes of winning immediate marriage rights.
Without such a clear-cut victory, however, the marriage between the GOP and "values voters" in this election is a product of wishful thinking. Much to the chagrin of the GOP, voters are finally more concerned about the civil war in Iraq, than Civil Unions in New Jersey.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
by Wayne Besen
When a devout Muslim taxi driver refuses to take you where you want to go because you have luggage containing alcohol, the only appropriate response is, "shut up and drive."
Such a situation recently occurred at the Minneapolis International airport, with the driver transforming his cab into a mini-caliphate. Following this incident, in the same city, a Christian bus driver demanded that she only drive busses without ads for the GLBT magazine Lavender that read: "Unleash Your Inner Gay." Initially, the Metro Transit acquiesced to the absurd request, but soon reversed course and said that they were "not persuaded that advertising, per se, infringes on religious practices."
We have also seen busybody pharmacists who think they can interfere with the private doctor/patient relationship by refusing to fill contraceptive prescriptions. These puffed-up pill dispensers call this a "conscience clause." Yet, no one forced these nosey nabobs to ingest the pills, thus not violating their personal beliefs.
The taxi driver, pharmacists and bus driver are essentially arguing that when in their presence, the public must submit to their beliefs. They also assert that their personal religious liberty is impinged upon if they cannot impose their will on others. This line of thinking is oppressive, incoherent and dangerous to the cohesion and unity of this nation.
Our duty as American citizens is to support the right for people to believe whatever they want. If they want to pray to aliens that is their right, just as it is the right of a person to have no belief at all. What these spiritual supremacists want to do, however, is go a step further and compel others to respect or give deference to their faith.
Sorry, but it doesn't work that way in America. Why am I obligated to become a temporary Muslim for the ten minutes it takes to drive me home? The ideas of "minding ones own business" and "live and let live" have served our country well. The further we get away from these enduring principles, the more strife and discontent we will confront.Here's the deal: if a cabbie doesn't like booze, don't drink. If a Christian fundamentalist doesn't want to drive a bus with gay ads, quit and drive a church bus. If a pharmacist has a problem with dispensing contraception or Plan B, don't use the products. If an Orthodox Jew doesn't like bacon, instead of seeking to close down the deli, order lox at the kosher restaurant next door. If you are against gay marriage, don't have one.
If your beliefs are so austere and uncompromising that normal interaction with the public is considered a contaminant, then get a job with a religious institution. There are plenty of churches or mosques that need health providers or bus drivers. But don't expect the public to do flash conversions each time they need your services.
The long-term key to societal harmony is embracing the concept of "private faith," which allows an individual to pursue personal virtue, without forcing compulsory beliefs on others. Many of the world's most intractable problems stem directly from "communal faith," in which individual liberty is trampled in the name of cultural values that can only exist if propped up by a fist. This version of faith is coercive as it is corrosive, wickedly dangerous and always volatile to a nation's stability. Communal faith breaks the social contract that binds us together and pits one group against another.
It is anti-American and should not be confused with legitimate claims of religious liberty. If a person can pray where he wants and to whom he wants, than such theological freedom has been achieved. To move beyond this basic definition invites friction and even the calamitous wars that infect other parts of the world.
While those who subscribe to communal religion fancy themselves pious, they often strike me as having the least faith among us. Their belief systems appear so fragile that unless they create a monolithic universe of like-minded clones, their ideas crumble.
Common courtesy and respect for the beliefs of others does not require disrespecting our own beliefs and principles to make fanatics comfortable. If we shrink from our duty as Americans and appease zealots in busses and cabs, they may take us to our destination, but it will, in the end, put this nation way off course.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
by Wayne Besen
In 1995, I arrived in Washington, DC as a fresh faced and doe-eyed twenty five year old. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for a living, but I thought working on Capitol Hill might be interesting and the big buildings looked kind of cool. Although I had just served as a press secretary in a U.S. senate primary, I wasn't a political junkie and all I really knew was that Democrats were the pro-gay "good guys" and Republicans were the anti-gay "bad guys."
For days, I scurried down the long corridors of the ornate and musty Congressional offices to drop off resumes. While I was ultimately unsuccessful in attracting a job offer, I did manage to attract furtive glances from many staffers on The Hill - particularly well-scrubbed Republicans. If there were steam coming out of some of those Republican offices, I would have sworn I was in a bathhouse. Wasn't the GOP supposed to be the party that loathed homosexuals?
This bizarre dynamic was simply too mind-boggling for a political neophyte like myself to comprehend. I chalked it up to one of life's great unknowable mysteries, such as "Does God exist" or "why do straight women think Fabio is hot?"
Eleven years later, I must admit, I still don't get it. How can people go home with a same sex partner at night and then show up at work the next morning to denounce homosexuals?
(I want to qualify this by stressing that many Republicans office holders are pro-gay and there are many honorable Republican activists, such as former Log Cabin leader Patrick Guerriero.)
When I questioned gay republicans, they would often scoff and say that the Republican Party is tolerant. As proof, they would point to the offices where they worked and proclaim that they were gay friendly environments. The Mark Foley scandal, as it turns out, proves that they weren't lying. The Republican elites in Washington love gay people, as long as they don't broadcast their sexual orientation.
Read: "Don't let the yahoos on the prairie know you are a fairy or they will stay home on Election Day and we won't get our tax cuts and promotions."
On a recent airing of the Chris Matthews Show, commentator Tucker Carlson revealed that educated and wealthy Washington Republicans can't stomach the religious fanatics."The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power," admitted Carlson. "Everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values...It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out."
A combustible new book
, "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction," by former faith-based initiative honcho David Kuo, asserts that top GOP strategists privately called evangelical leaders "nuts" and "goofy."
It is easy to sympathize with evangelicals. For more than two decades, they had admirably outworked every other group in America to win offices from the presidency to lowly school boards -- and still had time to send their kids to Jesus Camps.
In the process, the GOP became part of the conservative evangelical religion. The creepy worship of politicians, such as President Bush and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan) seems, at times, to approach idolatry. This is why it must be incredibly painful to find that national party leaders are more likely to play show tunes than gospel hymns once safely ensconced in the Beltway. Indeed, gay activist Mike Rogers has outed so many hypocrites that it now seems more newsworthy if he reveals a Republican is actually heterosexual.
If you are having trouble understanding the betrayal felt by Christian conservatives, look at it from a different perspective. Imagine how you would feel if you came to find that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had offices filled with homophobic, apocalyptic Christians waiting for the End Times?
Incensed by the duplicity, the Traditional Values Coalition's Lou Sheldon has called for
a "Come to Jesus meeting" between the GOP elite and their conservative base. It is clear that the Republican Party is in the midst of a major identity crises and there is no turning back. In the "come to Jesus meeting" Republicans will be forced to either abandon the goofy nutjobs or reluctantly agree to crucify gays.
Sorry if I don't shed a tear, but gay conservatives may be getting exactly what they deserve. They have helped elevate the very puritans that now may purge them. It was a good ride while it lasted, but the party is over. The only regret is that the halls of Congress won't be quite as much fun to cruise once they are gone.
Friday, October 06, 2006
by Wayne Besen
The biggest misnomer in the Mark Foley fiasco is that his transgressions were caused by the closet. We hear that his career ended in tragedy because living in secrecy warps the mind and leads to sleaze on the sly. This, of course, is often true, as in the case of former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, but Foley doesn't fit the script.
For one, it seems every gay man in West Palm Beach has at least one Mark Foley story. For someone supposedly on the down low, Foley attended gay parties and was brazen enough, on one occasion, to introduce his longtime partner to a news reporter.
In Congress, if Foley wasn't officially out to the Republican leadership, it was certainly Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The congressman had been "outed" repeatedly in the gay press and rumors swirled on the Internet. It just isn't credible to believe that in the gossip mill known as Capitol Hill, these whispers did not circulate to the top echelons of power.
The former congressman is not a victim of the closet, but of naked ambition and raw opportunism. Foley began his career as a Democrat, but figured his prospects were better as a Republican and switched parties. From the beginning, it was clear he stood for nothing but the attainment of his own personal power. This is why he had little trouble joining a party that was ascending, in part, by embracing an anti-gay "family values" platform. (Of course, by the way House Speaker Dennis Hastert has handled allegations of Foley's impropriety, it appears that the GOP's party leadership is as insincere on "Family Values" as Foley.)
In the same cavalier way he snookered the right, Foley consistently trampled the gay community. He saw no contradiction in parading around with his long-term boyfriend in Florida, while returning to Washington to vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits states from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. Foley was willing to give second-class status to relationships, including his own, to satisfy his lust for power.
In a final act of monumental hypocrisy, Foley was the co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. He strutted around touting this commendable legislation, while proclaiming, "We track library books better than we do sex offenders...If I was one of these sickos, I'd be nervous with America's Most Wanted on my trail."
Only nine weeks later we come to find that Foley has written more pages than Stephen King. The original online banter was creepy, but not sexually explicit. While newly released Instant Messages reveal a deeply disturbed man who was clearly abusing his authority to try to gain sexual favors from pages.
In an insincere effort to garner sympathy, Foley claims that his moral failures took place because he is an alcoholic. But even if he were a heavy drinker, he was still well aware that pages are high school juniors, making his weak alibi irrelevant.
Make no mistake, Foley's disgraceful fall has damaged the gay community because it perpetuated the devastating stereotype that homosexuals are child molesters. To compound the problem, Foley's lawyer claimed that as a boy Foley was molested, while finally acknowledging that the disgraced former lawmaker is a gay man.
By conflating the two subjects, Foley provided fodder for every right wing organization in the nation that claims that gays are the sinful byproduct of abuse or neglect.
The jackals on the right wasted no time exploiting the situation."While pro-homosexual activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.Of course, Perkins' comments are disgustingly mean-spirited and untrue.
A 2000 study by Dr. Michael R. Stevenson concluded, "A gay man is no more likely than a straight man to perpetrate sexual activity on children." A 1994 study by Dr. Carole Jenny found that less than one-percent of the children in her study were abused by a gay man or lesbian. In 1978, Drs. Nicholas Groth and Jean Birnbaum found that none of the 175 molesters in their study had an exclusively homosexual adult orientation.
Unfortunately, perception is reality and when Foley-gate is out of the headlines, the damage he wrought will make it difficult for the GLBT community to turn the page.