Saturday, August 14, 2004

Double whammy day

On the west coast, almost 8,000 people had their marriages invalidated by the state. On the east coast, the governor of one of the nation's more tolerant states came out in a press conference, then promptly resigned.

To be sure, there's more complexity to these stories than I just implied. McGreevey's reported affair was with a high-ranking official with questionable qualifications for the position he held in New Jersey. I have no idea how far the mayor of San Francisco exceeded his legal authority under California code.

I do know this: our furors over public acknowledgements of homosexuality, whether they take place in a press conference or a wedding dress, are clear indications that discrimination against gays and lesbians is still a socially tolerated form of bigotry. Racists and sexists have at least gotten the message that there are consequences for letting slip with an epithet. Despite the continuing underrepresentation of women and people of color in our elected branches of government, there seems to be currency for political parties to at least make a show of their diversity. Our society may be a long way from racial justice and gender equality, but at least we're developing the kind of shame that tells us that we should get there.

Homosexuality, though? Heck, you can grow up to be the president of the United States professing your bigotry in front of the cameras. No, you can't use slurs. But you can play to perceptions that a group is perverse and threatens societal well-being. That you could put in your TV advertisement.

Most straight Americans still haven't internalized the political issues of gays and lesbians in the terms of a civil rights struggle. Even our so-called progressive politicians pander to the biases of the Bible belt electorate by supporting such poor-spirited nonsense as the "Defense of Marriage Act" and the military "Don't-ask-don't-tell" policy. Somebody has to take a stand here. The 14th amendment to the constitution is supposed to protect all American citizens from discrimination under the law. Where are the guardians of the constitution, when they're faced with such a clear case of discrimination that does not serve a legitimate government interest? Oh, that's right...you can be a bigot who believes that "moral disapproval of homosexuality is an American tradition" while serving on the Supreme Court too. Dear Nino: Jim Crow laws were an American tradition too. They'll be looked upon with contempt by history, as I suspect you will be.

Here's a parting thought, I've devised a little measuring stick for tracking the state of prejudice in our country. Ask yourself, "who is least likely to be elected President of the United States during my lifetime?"

an African-American man
a woman
a Jewish man
an out gay man

I don't even think it's close. We've already had Ferraro and Lieberman as Veep nominees. Colin Powell probably would have been elected president if he had run. An openly homosexual man? I think his only shot would be if he were running against a confirmed atheist. But that's a topic for another day.


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