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The Gay Way

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Tom Robinson Band--"Glad To Be Gay" (mp3)


The attempt to paint President Obama's decision to come out in support of gay marriage as a political move is very fair.  And, therefore, completely irrevelant.  For to accuse a politician of being political is akin to postulating that a sex addict is only in it for the sex.  Politicians act politically. 

The reason such an attack is irrelevant, however, is not just because it attacks a politician's core for being his core: it's because the attack carries the implication that Obama has supported something that he really doesn't believe.  Well, even though I'd be shocked, given Mr. Obama's own background, if this wasn't true to his beliefs, though it may or may not have been politically expedient to say so, whether or not Mr. Obama "believes" in gay marriage or not is also completely irrelevant.

The only thing that matters is that he has come out in favor of it.  The only thing. 

It's kind of like when George Bush the elder came out against broccoli, only this time it's positve and important.  And what comes of the Obama announcement is the following:

1. Suddenly, the cause has legitimacy that it didn't have.
2. Pollsters immediately want to know if the people back the president, and the polls suggest, however tenuously, that a majority of Americans do.
3. Pollsters want to know if it will affect the election, because for the media, a major quality-of-life issue, a civil rights issue, is really only fodder for the big story.
4. Presidents can't retreat from the gay issue now, not until it is resolved in some way.

One need have only a superficial understanding of American History (would that more people had even that) to know that some of the greatest moments in our history, moments that I am most proud of, have come about even though the President at the time might have had no particular interest in the cause in question.

Lincoln's comment pre-and-post Emancipation Proclamation have been parsed repeatedly and more intelligently than I could do.  All I need do is to remind you that Lincoln was no great advocate, either morally or intellectually, of correcting the state of slaves.  He merely saw the chance to use them as the means to an end--namely, the preservation of the Union.  Similarly, when LBJ picked up the torch of JFK's social programs, he was no great champion of civil rights.  But he did enjoy power, and manipulation, and bending people to his will, and if he could use the ghost of the dead president to push an agenda, well, that was what he did.  An entire minority gained, and not because he loved them.

And that's why Obama's measured support matters so much.  Call him calculating, challenge his manhood, demonstrate that he didn't get much of a "bump" from doing it, say he didn't go far enough, prove that it isn't going to make much an impact on the election.  None of that matters now. It doesn't even matter which side of the issue you are on.  When a president weighs in, even if he's a president you malign or despise, his embrace of the issue carries so much clout that it would take a cataclysmic societal shift (think: the Taliban taking over Afghanistan) to push the issue off the table.

The fact is that civil rights need a helping hand from government.  I'm not being patriarchal.  The laws and legislation that follow from governmental interest are crucial to changing the minds of a society, to forcing a change through fine and sentence and punishment, if necessary.  And those have to come from federal government, not state.  I understand the arguments against "big government" and the threat of intrusions into our lives, but I also know that part of these arguments are coded--thinly-veiled advocacy for states and individuals being able to inforce their misguided, narrowly-defined, religiously-based inhibitions of others' practices.  It isn't that they're opposed to big government; they just want to be the biggest part of it when it suits them.

But that cannot stand for civil rights.  Our tendency as a society is to ignore the fact that those who are suffering, are hiding, are pretending to be something they aren't still matter when they aren't part of a crucial political debate.  So even now, a week or two later, the gay marriage issue is off of the front page and is, apparently, not the "single issue" that will sway voters in either direction.  Obama may not have to say much more about it; Romney made his opinion known back when he was at boarding school.  Probably, the courts will decide the matter in their own good time.

Unless we become a theocracy, the prejudice against gay rights cannot stand.  And I'm not saying that with a tone of outrage.  I'm saying that, legally, as a matter of social equality, the issue will eventually be solved dispassionately and on a national level.  States should not determine gay marriage law any more than they should determine immigration law, any more than they should have been allowed to maintain "separate but equal." 

And that's when we'll be reminded again of the presidential leadership that we have just witnessed, that seemed to matter for about a week, until some latest conflict took its place.  And no one will have any memory of why he did it, if they ever knew.  And it won't matter, because now it's out of the closet.


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