Sunday, March 14, 2004

Break out the booze!

Parabasis just got its first mention in another blog! Of course, that was because I got all uppity in Everything is Ruined's comments section and John Paul (EIR’s superb writer-in-residence and fellow Vassar alum) felt a need to respond at length.

I like John Paul a lot, and I find his blog well argued, well reasoned, and informative, so being responded to publicly by him is a bit of a compliment. And in general I think he makes some great points (go read his response here, he does a good job of summarizing the points he’s responding to from my original post).

I will also say that quite frankly, I get very emotional around gay rights issues. The GLBT movement was the first political movement I was ever involved in (at the tender age of 12) thanks to a theater production I was cast in at the time. Within a couple of months of starting rehearsals, I was wearing political pins at school, marching in the Walk Without Fear, and being hauled into the Principal’s office by the guidance counselor for talking about “Gay issues” too much in class.

Anyway, eventually I marched in the Clinton-Gore first Inaugural parade under the banner of the AIDS quilt. I love-signed to Al Gore and he love-signed back from behind the bulletproof glass. I always remembered that moment as the GLBT community routinely got very little from Democrats for their support, votes, advocacy and passion.

This is why I hold Kerry’s feet to fire on this issue, and why his equivocation is probably so repellent to me. The Democratic party needs to show leadership on this issue, publicly, if we are ever going to change the culture and, in general, they’re not.

I would say as an aside that when I first heard Kerry say that he'd support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage as long as it allowed for civil unions it was completely ambiguous as to whether he was talking about federal or state, and it was several days before he resolved the confusion. Also, I called the Kerry NY office immediately afterwards. I was told that John Kerry would never say anything like that and, once I sent them the link to the quote, I was never e-mailed or called back to explain what he meant or what they meant by saying he'd never say that. I think this is a pretty good sign of why Kerry's a bad choice for President (Even his staff don't know which way he'll come down on an issue!) but oh well.

Anyway, now to respond to a few of John Paul’s points that I disagree with:
“It is wimpy, and yet ideologically consistent to say "no" to a federal amendment and "okay" to a state amendment. A federal amendment means no state can make up its mind, discussion is over. States have already made their own decisions in this area, and the people of Massachusetts can decide whether or not they like their legislators restricting gay marriage. Kerry can't tell them that they can't make that decision.”

I feel there’s a bit of slippery logic going on here. Of course Kerry can’t tell them they can’t amend the Constitution. That would demonstrate an immense ignorance vis-à-vis the democratic process. What he could say, however, is that he doesn’t think it’s a very good idea. My problem with Kerry is that he’s against gay marriage, and for writing his opinion on gay marriage into the founding document of the state of Massachusetts. That’s more than wimpy. If he were to elaborate on his civil unions position and say that homosexual couples should be extend the enormous rights and privileges of heterosexual couples, it would be different. Essentially what Kerry did was dodge to the right, lending his tacit support to bigotry while paying lip service to equal rights. Personally, I find it revolting.

“Do you think the people of Grenada, Mississippi will EVER let a gay marriage happen without a hitch? If you were gay, would you want to get married in Grenada? Hell--if you were a black man, would you want to marry a white woman in Grenada and then walk down the street holding hands? You can't even do that in some Chicago suburbs or neighborhoods of New York City…. Elections and legislation don't transform the culture--they are the end result of cultural transformations.”

This is essentially an update of the old Oscar Wilde fallacy—“we can’t desegregate schools because the black kids’ll get beat up!”. I guess I still belong a little to firmly to the whole “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied” club. Our fear of homophobia/gaybashing is just about the worst reason to stop us from using the law to improve the lives of oppressed people, because otherwise, the culture will never change. As to who transforms what when why and how, I think a lot of it is chicken and egg, and making sweeping historical statements is risky but I will say that I believe that the government can and should be used as an instrument of social change.

“I'm also aware that many Americans do not think like me, and I live in a democracy, so there you have it.”

No, you don’t. Democracy is not an excuse for coddling institutionalized bigotry. One has a right to their bigotry, and even a right to express that bigotry nonviolently, but our government very specifically does not have a right to its bigotry.

To be fair, with the “elections” line and the “democracy” line I think what JP was getting at is that one of the downsides in a democracy like ours is that change is very slow to occur, and that may be the price you pay for living with the American system. I agree, the Constitutional system essentially sets up an enormous system of stagnation and attrition, but it has added bonuses like cheques and balances which are supposed to keep anything too crazy from happening. Where we disagree is on what we expect from our elected officials. There’s a balance between leading the American people and representing the American people that politicians need to strike. I think JP probably feels that in this world, politicians are more representatives, and I want them to show a little more leadership.

I think JP and I also handle our cognitive dissonance a little bit differently. We both deal with having the following sentences floating around our heads: "I support equal rights for gays and their relationships", "John Kerry does not support equal rights for gays and their relationships", "I am going to work hard to make sure John Kerry gets elected President". There's a lot of ways to resolve that. The first is that John Kerry is so obviously better than his opponent on this (or really, any) issue that we can comfortably settle for him. From there we diverge-- as you can tell from our different ways of relating to the gay marriage issue.

But if I’m mischaracterizing anything he said, I hope he’ll correct me.


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