Sunday, September 11, 2005

The GOP: Guardians of Prejudice

Over the past year and a half VOR has weighed in on the gay marriage issue, arguing that there is no legitimate reason why gays should not be allowed to marry and enjoy the full legal rights of marriage. With the recent vote by the California legislature to legalize gay marriage and Governor Schwarzenegger’s promise to veto the bill, now is an appropriate time to provide an overview of the GOP’s unjust and illogical position.

Let us begin with the event that catapulted gay marriage to the national spotlight: the decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court which stated that denying gays the right to marry violated the Massachusetts state constitution. Conservatives around the country immediately decried yet another example of “liberal judicial activism”, claiming that unelected judges were imposing gay marriage on the Massachusetts citizenry.

On the morning after the Court’s decision, the citizens of Massachusetts awoke to a world where everything was exactly the same except for the fact that the gays who had been living together for years, raising children, or otherwise doing what everyone else does in America, could obtain a marriage license and the legal rights of inheritance, hospital visitation, spousal benefits, and any other rights that come with marriage. No churches or religions were forced to perform gay marriages; the Court only mandated a change to the civil code. The argument made by conservatives was that simply the knowledge that gays could marry, and therefore that gay relationships between consenting adults were now legitimate, presented a dire threat to heterosexual marriage. Think about that for a moment; the irony is stunning. What conservatives were in effect saying was that the institution of heterosexual marriages is so weak that the ability of gays to share these marriage rights somehow imperiled this ancient tradition. This irony wasn’t lost on at least one conservative commentator, David Brooks, who pointed out that conservatives should be championing gay marriage since it is an acknowledgement by gays that they want the same stability and monogamy that conservatives had been touting for years.

The conservative ire at the supposed “gay agenda” soon reached even greater heights of absurdity. Claims that if gay marriage was legalized it would threaten the very fabric of American society and spell the end of American civilization became commonplace on talk radio and the internet. According to this logic, if gay marriage were legalized this would legitimize the “gay lifestyle” and therefore more people would “choose” to be gay. Putting aside the debate over the genetic origins of homosexuality (or whether anyone has any business telling people what sexual preferences they should chose), this conservative view assumes that human beings are essentially weak and infantile, which is an added layer of irony given that conservatives are supposed to believe in personal virtue, integrity, and responsibility. (How can one hold such a view of personal virtue and believe that somehow Joe and John marrying will lead to a mass exodus from the heterosexual ranks?)

There are significant other issues as well. An adult’s sexual preference is one of his or her most intimate traits, and the government has no business favoring one sexual orientation over the other. Simply put, a gay or lesbian is no less an American than anybody else, and should be free to choose his or her partner, regardless of gender, and enjoy the same legal rights all citizens.

Unfortunately, conservatives seem intent on proving that they have lost their former dedication to personal liberty and minimal government intrusion in people’s private lives; they have gone so far as to propose amending the Constitution of the United States to bar gay marriages. It continues to boggle the mind how a party that would suggest such an outlandish thing has not been relegated to minority status, but instead has been rewarded with increased majorities in Congress. While conservatives may point to this as evidence that they have the majority on their side, they are still wrong. The Constitution that they want to amend contains provisions that were expressly written to prevent the tyranny that majorities often perpetrate on minorities.

So now we turn to the recent events in California, where the GOP has been exposed yet again as the party that favors intolerance and ideology over reason. After lambasting the court in Massachusetts and insisting that legislators decide on gay marriage, the legislature in California did just that. During the debate leading up to the vote, Republican senators are on record saying that gays are not “normal” and that they decided to vote against gay marriage because they wanted to “protect children.” Again, let us pause for closer inspection.

At least a dozen times I e-mailed anti-gay marriage activists or called in during radio programs when they were on the air and asked them the following question: If you think gays harm children, then what you really want is to deny gays the right to have and care for children, correct? Not once did they answer the question directly, and the reason is simple: they know that if they admitted their agenda they would lose credibility with the American people, who, despite their reservations and discomfort with homosexuality, sincerely want to be tolerant of gays. But the anti-gay marriage organizations, while cloaking their agenda in the rosy rhetoric of “protecting the sanctity of marriage” and “safeguarding children,” in fact want nothing less than to deny gays the right to be parents in this society.

Sadly, Governor Schwarzenegger, who has personally expressed support for gay rights, has decided to play to his base and informed the people of California that “we should let the courts decide,” in direct contradiction of the official GOP position up to this point (talk about a bizarre twist of logic). Unsurprisingly, his decision to veto the bill comes the week before he will announce his plan to run for reelection. In order to gain Republican support he has to deny gays their rights and cater to prejudice, even if this goes against his own personal convictions.

There are many areas where there are reasonable arguments for supporting Republican policies over Democratic policies. But not here. Regarding gay rights, the GOP is not only wrong, unjust, and cruel, but I would even say anti-American. The most noble trend in our history has been the steady expansion of individual rights and liberties. Until Republicans speak up in greater numbers and let the GOP leadership know that intolerance against gays is wrong, the GOP will in fact be taking America backward rather than forward.

J.S.

P.S. For a hopeful article on shifting attitudes towards gays and why the GOP will eventually lose this 21st century civil rights struggle, click here.

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