Tuesday, May 26, 2009
by Wayne Besen
Having watched the court proceedings on television, I was pretty certain that the California Supreme Court was going to uphold Proposition 8, the ballot initiative to overturn an earlier court ruling allowing gay couples the freedom to marry.
Still, knowing that a punch to the gut is coming does not make it hurt any less. The 6-1 ruling was degrading, humiliating and a shameful day that will live in infamy. The decision upheld tyranny of the majority and promoted the idiotic idea of mob rule.
Can the voters of California now decide whether I can eat bacon and eggs for breakfast? Are they able to choose if I can own a cat or a dog? May they regulate my weight or pick what career I choose?
These are serious questions. The fact is, banning my potential marriage is more an imposition and hardship than if the voters had chosen to enact the above examples. Any non-biased person would agree that the idea of the public banning the possibility of their marriage would be both invasive and traumatizing. Yet, the voters of California, backed by the Supreme Court, upheld this Orwellian idea.
Really, what are the limits to such insanity? Are we unique individuals with inalienable rights or public property with provisional rights granted or eliminated by the whims of the fickle electorate?
In his dissent, Justice Carlos Moreno was corr
ect to write, "Denying gays and lesbians the right to marry, by wrenching minority rights away from judicial protection and subjecting them instead to a majority vote, attacks the very core of the equal protection principle."
There are now calls from gay and lesbian leaders to place the marriage question back on the ballot in California. The competitive side of me says, "bring it on, let's win." But, another side believes that the gay and lesbian community should simply boycott all votes relating to rights -- and take our outrage to the streets and the halls of Congress. After all, why are we the only minority in the history of this nation that has had to explicitly win public approval for our most basic needs?
Hell, if African-Americans had been forced to win equality through referendum they'd still be drinking out of separate water fountains in the South. Yet, we are routinely forced to degrade our humanity and grovel to voters, who smugly sit on the throne, judging whether we are worthy to visit our ailing spouses (scratch that, we are now partners, again) in their hospital beds.
The only silver lining is that the very act of fighting has compelled more people to "come out" -- thus eroding the stigma of homosexuality. Recent public opinion polls have reflected this shift, with supporters of marriage equality reaching more than 40 percent. Demographic trends are also favorable, with younger voters embracing the freedom to marry.
No doubt, anti-gay forces are celebrating today's ruling as a major victory. Still, the court's ruling upholding the same-sex marriages that already took place in California must be disconcerting. If the existence of 18,000 gay married couples did not cause God to plunge California into the ocean, why would 180,000 make a difference? Our opponents have a real messaging problem that will only deepen, as more Californians are introduced to these couples.
The "Lucky 18,000" also creates the existence of a new caste system. At the top of the hierarchy are straight married couples that receive state and federal benefits. The next rung down, we have legally married gay couples who receive state benefits. Then, of course, we have the untouchables, who receive state domestic partnerships as a result of their inferior status. It seems that until gay couples can tie the knot, the judicial system will be tied up in knots over these supposedly "separate but equal" arrangements. And, I'm confident the public will eventually see the current reality as inherently unfair.
At a rally in New York in response to the ruling, I joined thousands of protesters who turned their disappointment into determination and pain into progress. Our movement is resilient and we understand that this is merely a speed bump that will not be a deterrent from ultimate victory.
I am further encouraged by the hoards of young activists who joined me at the Union Square demonstration. Mobilized by a sense of injustice and organized through the Internet, they may be the first generation fully supported by their peers. By the time they attend their college reunions, state sanctioned discrimination will be a distant memory, like homework and drinking games. Unfortunately, that day has yet to arrive, and gay people of all ages are experiencing a nasty hangover from the California Supreme Court's egregious ruling.
Monday, May 11, 2009
by Wayne Besen
It was unusually satisfying to watch beauty contestant turned Bible-thumper Carrie Prejean crash and burn. In the bat of an eyelash, she went from Christian role model to wannabe underwear model after racy pictures of her surfaced. "They were quite inappropriate and certainly not photos befitting a beauty queen," Alicia Jacobs, a Miss USA judge, told NBC's Today Show.
The verb "strip" is the one most associated with Prejean's name these days. She stripped her clothes, may be stripped
of her Miss California crown and was certainly stripped of her moral authority as a spokesperson for marriage. In her brief stint as America's scold, she forgot to memorize one Bible passage: "Judge not lest thou be judged."
What's amazing is that the circus-like antics of Prejean are the rule, not the exception for today's anti-gay activists. There has clearly been a brain drain among our opponents -- with the conservative intelligentsia largely running from GLBT issues. Filling the vacuum, are the vacuous -- with little to offer, other than comedic relief.
For example, Joe the Plumber
plunged into culture wars with his usual thoughtful advice: "I personally still think it's wrong...you know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do--what man and woman are for...I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children."
Joe the Plumber looked like Einstein compared to Maine Rep. Bernard Ayotte (R). During a state House debate
on marriage equality (passed 89-58), Ayotte said that he couldn't support the legislation because it would provide legal protections to people whom he said suffered from hormonal imbalances.
"By all indications, homosexuality in human beings seems to be generated by imbalances in the human body," Ayotte said. "As legislators, it is important that we do not base our statutes on genetic aberrations."
Even by the low standards set by anti-gay activists, this level of ignorance was shocking, yet indicative of how far the quality of our opponents has fallen.
Joining the chorus of anti-gay clowns was former Washington, DC mayor Marion Barry, best remembered for smoking crack and allowing the city's rats to grow as large as cats.
A longtime gay rights supporter, he was the lone city councilman to vote against a bill, passed 12-1, to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the District.
"All hell is going to break lose," Barry predicted. "We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this." Columnist Leonard Pitts summarized Barry's political cowardice when he said the former mayor "punked out."
Sharing the anti-gay spotlight was caustic talk show host Michael Savage and the Kansas preacher noted for picketing military funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs, Fred Phelps and his wife, Shirley. They were banned
from visiting England and publicly scorned for their bigoted views. While I do not agree with their banishment (neither do civil liberties groups), it does force social conservatives into the PR nightmare of having to turn Savage and Phelps into "creep celebres."
Even the "mainstream" anti-gay activists seem to have come unhinged. In stating his opposition to federal hate crime legislation, James Dobson appeared
in a video where he falsely claimed that the inclusion of "sexual orientation" opened the door to, "bisexuality, exhibitionism, fetishism, incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, prostitution, sexual masochism, voyeurism, bestiality." Dobson added for effect, "I have to ask, 'have we all gone completely mad?'"
Oddly enough, Dobson lives in Colorado, one of twelve states that have a hate crime law
offering protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are also 31 states that offer such protection based solely on sexual orientation. In these 43 states, can Dobson point to a problem with hate crime laws being applied to necrophilia or bestiality? If not, his bizarre and paranoid ranting says more about his overactive imagination, than it does about the reality of such laws.
Of course, for the sake of sheer amusement, we can't leave out the absurdity of Bristol Palin hawking abstinence. With baby in-tow and embittered ex-boyfriend on tail, she is the poster girl for the social conservative mantra: "do as I say, not as I do."
Let me reiterate, so you can fully appreciate and savor the situation. The new faces of social conservatism are: Carrie Prejean, Joe the Plumber, Marion Barry, Bernard Ayotte, Michael Savage, Fred Phelps and Bristol Palin. With such luminaries, it should be no surprise that the GLBT community has had a string of incredible victories. Somewhere in the process of passing the torch to the next generation, anti-gay activists have stumbled and are in danger of burning down the homophobic house.
Monday, May 04, 2009
by Wayne Besen
In an online discussion forum, a respected activist recently lamented the decentralization of gay community advocacy. He made a powerful case that we would be better off if our efforts were more regimented and unified.
"Our communal problem is that the LGBT community is so fragmented that we are constantly a cacophony of voices rather than a choir," the advocate wrote. He went onto make the point that division can lead to defeat in the political arena. "We celebrate diversity of opinion within our community but that does not work in politics."
The community leader raised another point worth contemplating as legislation that affects the gay community winds its way though Congress and will likely end up on Obama's desk: "So, who will the President listen to? Is it the Human Rights Campaign...or a host of bloggers? Sometimes, I wish we could go back to a time when we had less ability to communicate. Then, there were fewer voices to be heard and less confusion about who was representing the community."
The problem with this analysis is that a golden age of GLBT unity never existed. The early 1950's activists clashed with gay individuals who preferred quiet, "private lives." Activists who wore suits and ties to protests rejected the new radicalism of the 1960's and 1970's, exemplified by the Stonewall rebellion.
Never ending battles have also been fought over the role of sexual liberation. Some activists have claimed that our movement is about sexual freedom, while others have preached assimilation and found the overt displays of sexuality at Gay Pride parades offensive. Additionally, our movement has fought the battle of the sexes to the point of exhaustion. Let's not even get started on the nasty dust-ups over transgender issues.
Such disorganization is even more conspicuous when contrasted with the conformity of our opponents. When growing up, these (mostly) churchgoers were rewarded for obedience, while our very existence was considered disobedient. To survive as a GLBT youth, one had to learn to question authority and be a freethinker. These traits make for incredibly interesting dinner guests, but create havoc for political organizers.
There is no doubt that the diversity of organizations and mushrooming of messages has hurt our movement on many levels. It has been nearly impossible for any leader to gain traction -- and thus legitimacy. The closest we have come to a larger than life leader is San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. However, he achieved far more prominence after he was assassinated (and later canonized by Hollywood) than he ever did while alive.
The discordant voices and actions have unfortunately provided fodder for our adversaries. They have endless tapes of nudity and nuttiness -- that have made it easier to portray GLBT people as the miscreants they claim we are.
That said, there is a strong case to make in favor of the diffuse nature of the movement. It can lead to innovation and questioning of existing paradigms. For example, we can't forget that the push for marriage equality was considered wildly "off message" only a decade ago. If our movement had been more centralized, marriage would have seemed too radical and never seen the light of day. However, marriage activists and impatient same-sex couples pushed the envelope. This has given us game changing victories in four states -- and counting. The latest polls show that almost half of Americans now support the freedom to marry.
We also have to remember that not long ago, the major GLBT organizations ran from religion. It was gay religious activists that thought fighting for acceptance within denominations was a worthy battle. While not achieving the same success as marriage equality, there have been successes -- most notably the Episcopal Church confirming Eugene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. We have also seen the rise of groups, which challenge faith-based bigotry, like Faith in America and SoulForce.
The controversial campaign by activist Mike Rogers to "out" closeted politicians who favored amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay people from marrying would also never have occurred in a centralized movement. Some might argue that his exposing of Republican hypocrisy helped undermine the GOP's legitimacy as the party representing "family values."
Moreover, conformity also makes it difficult to turn around a sinking ship. The nation is headed on a new path, but hierarchical and rigid GOP leaders are still obsessed with tax cuts, abortion, Ronald Reagan and opposing gay couples marrying.
The gay movement is untamed and freewheeling, like New York City, while the Religious Right is tightly controlled, like Singapore. Each model has its advantages, but also its shortcomings. In a diffuse media age that resembles the Wild West, the more agile and fractious movement may finally have the upper hand.