culture wars…

Posted on Monday 29 June 2009

Last summer, an old friend said to me, "America will never elect a black President." I’ve thought about that a lot since then. He was obviously wrong, and his reason for saying it wasn’t just a political observation, it was a reflection of his Republican classist ways of seeing America. But it has stuck with me because in a way, he wasn’t that far off of the mark. Obama is not a "black President." I think President Obama would like for us to stop seeing race altogether – like in that line from MLK’s Dream Speech:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…
And he’s been able to bring that off so far. He’s still opposed by the hard core racists, but we are much further down that road than we were when King made his speech in 1963. And frankly, I would credit George W. Bush with some of that progress. Even we "lefties" have a lot of respect for the african-americans who were in Bush’s cabinet – Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell. I want to spank both of them for going along with some of the insanity of that bunch, but I think we all saw them as the only principled players in a sea of misguided Republicans. Obama is doing well by women – Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Sonya Sotomayor. He’s bringing off race-blind and gender-blind.

But Obama’s in trouble with homosexuality. I don’t doubt for a second that he’s fully supportive of rights for gay people. It’s hard to imagine otherwise. But he’s stammering with how to proceed. For example, DOMA [the Defense Of Marriage Act], which is clearly one ridiculous piece of legislation. But in order to get it passed, its advocates had to agree to something they didn’t want – it is only about the term "marriage," not about equal rights for domestic partners. So, for its supporters, it upholds their version of the sanctity of marriage as a guy/gal thing. For Gay people, it feels like a disavowal  of their personhood [which it is], a continuation of second-class-ness or less-than-ness [which it also is]. But in truth, it’s a silly piece of drivel that has to do with the dictionary. What the hell is the government doing getting involved with the dictionary in the first place?

Then there’s DADT [Don’t Ask, Don’t tell]. In some ways, it’s even more absurd. There’s a way you could hear it that would be progressive – "Sexual Orientation has nothing to do with the right to die as a soldier." That’s absolutely true. But, of course, that’s not how it’s interpreted. It actually means, "If you are Gay, and in the military, and you talk about being Gay, you have to leave." That’s absolutely nuts [though if they had such a rule during our last really bad war, we’d have had regiments of Klingers in a New York minute]. But seriously, DADT is as silly as DOMA.

This is the biggest "culture war" issue of them all, and both sides want to win. There’s no middle ground. So if you suggest adding a category, "pairriage," and make it open to all [man-woman, man-man, woman-woman], I’ll bet a lot of hip real heterosexual people would choose it for their domestic unions. I think I would’ve ["Will you pair with me," would’ve been easier to say]. But, that would be seen by the Gay Community as losing. So it’s insoluable for Obama who wants to stay in the middle, or cut a compromise of some kind. And trying to be neutral will offend both sides of this war. Were I he, I’d do a Solomon/Baby thing. I’d dump DADT which is about rights, and proceed with the "rights" part of civil unions – but stay out of the nomenclature business as long as I could get away with it [until enough States make it a moot point]. But he’s still going to take flack. Culture Wars are just like that.
    June 29, 2009 | 11:00 AM

    I agree with your position. The ultimate goal is to have the state’s only interest being in rights and equal justice and let “marriage” be a religious right, with various religious groups free to determine who can marry in their faith.

    But you couldn’t legislate that. So the solution is for the federal govt. to repeal DADT, let the states that want to approve marriage do so, and then at some point it will be time for the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the right-to-whatever-ness.

    What worries me is that lawsuit that Ted Olsen is bringing that he wants to take to the Supreme Court, hoping they will declare Prop8 unconstitutional. It will likely fail, because it will be premature, and that will set the cause back.

    June 29, 2009 | 2:18 PM

    I agree. Only go after the ones you can win…

    Jack Senterfitt
    June 30, 2009 | 8:17 AM

    The reason that anything less than full marriage equality is losing is the same reason that “separate but equal” was struck down in racial segregation days–I remember as a youth, coming home from school and parroting what I had heard my peers say in a discussion with my father: “Dad, what’s wrong with having separate facilities, as long as they are equal?” His response, simple but eloquent has stayed with me ever since, and I quoted it frequently in my marriage equality work with Lambda Legal: “Jack,” he said, “how can anything that’s separate ever be equal?” As long as the civil law has an institution open to hetersexual couples called “marriage,” as an automatic result of which the couples are granted 1138 rights, anything other than than for same sex couples can never be equal. And these civil r-i-g-h-t-s of marriage are granted and enforced by the civil law independent of and without regard to any religious r-i-t-e-s of marriage–the former are conferred automatically even if a couple never has any religious ceremony, and in any religious ceremony, they are not conferred by reason of the religious ceremony, but only by fact of the civil law, when the clergy person acts as a civil servant by signing the marriage certificate.

    And indeed, for years we have already had the situation where the states grant civil marriages not recognized by certain religious groups, and the state has never attempted to force the religious groups to recognize these couples as married under their religious beliefs. Roman Catholocism does not recognize marriage for someone who has been civilly divorced, yet every state will grant a subsequent marriage license to such a couple, they will have these same 1138 rights, but the state will never try to tell the Catholic church that it must consider the couple married as a matter of religious belief. Likewise Orthodox Judaism does not recognize marriage outside of its faith, but every state will recognize a civil marriage between an Orthodox Jew and a person of another faith, and yet the state will not try to force Orthodox Judaism to accept such a marriage. So it’s not about doing anything new. And, in MA, where marriage for same sex couples has been legal for over 5 years, there has not been a single attempt to force any church or denomination to perform or recognize a same sex marriage.

    Though I haven’t had a chance to learn the details, I just read that Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU Gay and Lesbian Rights Project, the 3 leading national gay rights legal organizations have come out in support of the suit challenging Prop 8, so that’s quite significant I think.

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