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Posted by gustav at 05:00PM, Tuesday, December 02nd, 2003

Gay Marriage Should Be The Biggest Election-Year Issue

Lots of talking heads, nominally on both sides of the issue, are shouting that gay marriage mustn't be a big issue this election year. They're on the wrong side of history.

First of all, making gay marriage and gay rights a central issue in upcoming campaigns will demonstrate the unabashed bigotry of the party in power in this country right now. I believe people are smart enough to know that a Republican Party which claims compassion, but practices extra sentences for gays (for instance, the Romeo-and-Juliet laws in Kansas), and pushes to create the first amendment ever to the U.S. Constitution that will remove rights, isn't compassionate at all, but just as bigoted, intolerant, and suppressive as it demonstrated in such shining historical moments as the McCarthy witch hunts and Watergate.

Similarly, requiring candidates to be clear about their positions on gay rights will help demonstrate the bigotry of many who claim to be the alternative to the Republican Party. People like John Kerry, again, claim to be pro-gay rights, regardless of their voting records, and their vehement opposition to gay marriage. This is a nonsensical position, and its use demonstrates that politicians are trying to play both sides of the fence. "I'm not intolerant -- but don't worry, I wouldn't let those gays marry!" is what they're saying. Many of us who are gay say that not allowing us the same rights these married politicians enjoy is intolerant and bigoted, and demand to know how, exactly, allowing us to marry will hurt all the heterosexuals in America.

That's one of the biggest galls about the debates in Massachusetts: almost all of those railing against gay marriage in the legislature already have the right to marry, and most of them have exercised that right. A breakdown of voting trends published in the Boston Globe showed that, in last week's votes on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, married legislators overwhelmingly supported the amendment, while unmarried ones overwhelmingly opposed it. Those who claim that forbidding us a right that they enjoy will not and cannot hurt us are glaring hypocrites. If they really believe that, they should divorce before voting for such legislation.

The urge to purge us from the issues this year is about fear. Politicians are frightened of being seen as the bigots they are, so they say they're pro-gay, regardless of their past actions. They're also frightened of being seen as pro-gay by these hypothetical bible-belt middle-state voters they claim to need, so they make sure everyone knows exactly how anti-gay-marriage they are. They really just want us to go away. People like Jesse Jackson -- people who, having supposedly fought discrimination for decades, should absolutely know better -- claim that our issues aren't their issues, that gay marriage is much less important than jobs and the economy and fair housing. By saying that, they're saying that issues that are important to gays aren't important to the country in general -- because gays aren't important. What could be more bigoted? We all share some enemies -- the Bush administration and its helpers in the press -- but we as gays are also opposed by those too scared to stand up and oppose injustice, even though they claim that's their entire reason for engaging in politics. It's hard to tell whether people like Kerry are really anti-gay, or just too scared about other people thinking they're too pro-gay to stand up for their beliefs. I'd like to think it's the latter, but either way, the result is the same.

I don't think our enemies within the Democratic Party realize that their lack of conviction on this issue is what's killing the Party. The Democrats have moved away from their core identity -- the party of the working man, which stands up against big business and its fascistic ideals, and against intolerance in general. People who have been paying attention know that the 2000 Presidential election wasn't just lost to Bush II; it was also lost to Nader. If Gore had received the support of the thousands who voted for Nader in just a couple of states like New Hampshire, then Florida never could have become an issue. Party loyalists would do well to remember that if they continue to try to imitate the Republicans, the party will continue to disintegrate, as the people who are at its core, and have experienced injustice first hand, turn away from a party that has abandoned them.

Do the Democrats of today want to be remembered like we remember Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, a Democrat who disobeyed the law, and, in 1962, tried to keep Ole Miss racially segregated in violation of a Supreme Court order? Do they want to be remembered as joining the Bush administration in condemning "activist judges" -- like those in that Supreme Court case, or those in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, argued by Thurgood Marshall, or the 1956 ruling banning bus segregation, brought on by the actions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.? It is simply wrong to suggest that the Judicial Branch hasn't been historically necessary for breaking down intolerance and barriers to civil rights. We proudly remember Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1968 -- but we must not forget that one of the landmarks of the civil rights movement happened 14 years earlier because of "judicial activism." Such are the principles upon which our government is built, and we should deride any man who rejects them.

Right now, I wish more than ever that I lived in San Francisco. That city has often been one which actually practices liberal politics, rather than giving lip service to them, and Mayor Gavin Newsom's actions this month will come to be seen as a shining moment American civil rights history. I should think any politician would be thrilled to have his name forever tied to such a legacy. In contrast, George Bush, and all of those who let him have his way with the Constitution, will eventually be regarded as central or complicit figures in one of the darkest times for constitutional rights and liberties in the U.S., more frightening even than McCarthyism. It's time to ask whose side you are on, and to ask that of anyone who wants your vote this year.

It's time to stop sweeping us under the rug. It's time to stop equivocating, in the absense of any actual evidence that gay marriage will harm anyone. It's time to regard us as people, to recognize that the things that are important to us are important in general. If defeating the rights of gays is an easy victory for the evil that is sweeping this country, those who direct that evil will be emboldened in their attacks on others: Jews, Blacks, Arabs, environmentalists, drug users, civil libertarians, Hispanics, liberals, humanists, librarians, and academics... It's time for people, particularly for those who would claim to be Democrats, to be proud to say that they support gay rights, and to point out the gulf between their demonstrations of humanism and the Republican opposition, who never regard us as people. Continuing to try and push us and our issues under the rug is continuing to make the mistake of saying that we're not people, and that our votes and issues don't count as much as other people's issues -- that they're not really important. Politicians are free to do so, of course, but they must realize that we will take our votes elsewhere, if they do, and that history will vindicate us.
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