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December 09, 2004


May I recommend this column from the Blade?

The tangible issue is not whether we call legally recognized homosexual partnerships "marriage" or "civil unions". It's that partners have legal rights, no matter what you call it.

Where the activists have it wrong is their assumption that legislation is the cause - rather than the effect - of social changes.

People's attitudes towards homosexuality will be decided in homes, offices and playgrounds, not in courtrooms or legislative chambers. No law or legal ruling is likely to win social approval (and, listening to activists' rhetoric, this is clearly part of their reasoning behind pushing for marriage instead of civil unions). But I think do think that people - despite their erstwhile disapproval of homosexuality - can be convinced of the need for partners to have rights.


I disagree with that writer in the Blade.

This whole notion that wanting to marry my partner is "shoving my lifestyle down [other peoples'] throats" makes no sense to me. I want a right to do something in private, with my family and friends, and then to live my life, in private, the way I wish to live it. I'm not asking for those religiously opposed to homosexuality to attend my wedding. I'd rather they stay as far away from me as possible. I don't want my wedding to be anywhere near their throats.

Why they assume it would impact their lives at all remains the biggest of mysteries of me. I guarantee you I spend zero time contemplating the impact of their weddings on my life.

Personally, I find that Blade writer a bit Uncle Tom-ish.

Edward, are you sure they're not talking about means rather than ends?

I think that there is not a thing wrong with going to state courts. The people suggesting legislative action are naive at best and disingenuous at best. Have you looked at the voting totals in DOMA? It got more than 80 votes. Paul Wellstone voted for it. Who is the most prominent Democratic supporter you can name off the top of your head--Dennis Kucinich? Al Sharpton? I guess it's probably Ted Kennedy but it's not as if I've heard him make one single statement or speech on the issue.

And the courts have changed public opinion, and they've changed it for the better. There is no bloody way that civil unions are a majority-supported position without Baker and Goodridge. No way. They used to poll at 33% in Vermont. Howard Dean got enough serious death threats to have to wear a bulletproof vest. That's in maybe the third most socially liberal state in the entire country. Now they're the moderate compromise, and the majority position. I am quite certain that gay marriage is also the reason that ending Don't Ask Don't Tell, and passing anti-discrimination and hate crimes laws are now majority positions. People who oppose gay marriage want to tell themselves, "I'm not homophobic, but...." and so they support these laws all of a sudden.

(And there is a functional difference between civil unions and marriage, people: if the law says marriage, you can take the federal government to court and argue that it is not legitimate for them to pick and choose about which state's marriages to recognize. This is a separate, and I think easier case, than arguing that all states have to marry gay people or recognize same sex marriages performed elsewhere. There are more federal rights and benefits incident to marriage than state rights and benefits.)

But. I think there is a need to work as much on public persuasion as on court battles for a time. And I think that there are some court cases it would be a major tactical error to bring right now. Try New York and California, sure, but don't try a more conservative state where there will be a backlaash. One state at a time. If you want to be more daring, challenge the federal half of DOMA. But on no account should they challenge the state half of DOMA right now--not until they are certain they can kill the marriage amendment in Congress when the Democrats can no longer hide behind the federalism issue.

Also: this? Is a horrible idea:

One official said the group would consider supporting President Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program.

They shouldn't cut a deal with Bush. They have no reason whatsoever to trust him and 1000 reasons not to. And they should not give the Democratic leadership any excuse for their shameful cowardice on gay issues. It will be the Democrats who block the federal marriage amendment in the end. Selling out the Democrats and people who rely on a safety net is a good way to guarantee getting sold out in return.

Let's not freak out too much on these referenda. Our side has not yet begun to fight in most places. When we do, we often win in the end--as in Vermont, and as in Massachusetts.

I think I agree with you in total Katherine. Sorry if my post is unclear about that.

I believe one state at a time makes sense (New Jersey is looking promising right now, and I would move there should they legalize gay marriage before New York). I just hate to see HRC become obsessed with how much power they have. I support them for idealistic reasons---their message of equality. There's no compromise there for me when it comes to believing all people are created equal, and never will be.

The idea that HRC or any gay American can trust GWB to not sell us out again, though, is laughable. He was such a phenomenal disappointment on that issue. Although, as you note, he's hardly alone in his opportunistic approach to the issue...the whole lot of 'em are moral cowards, IMO.

There are two other parts of Angels in America that this post made me think of.

(The play is set in New York, in 1986. This conversation takes place between the lead character, who is dying of AIDS, and a good friend and former boyfriend of his, after emerging from the funeral of a friend.)

PRIOR: It was tacky.

BELIZE: It was divine.

He was one of the Great Glitter Queens. He couldn't be buried like a civilian. Trailing sequins and incense he came into the world, trailing sequins and incense he departed it. And good for him!

PRIOR: I thought the twenty professional Sicilian mourners were a bit much.

little pause

A great queen, big f*cking deal. That ludicrous spectacle in there, just a parody of a funeral of someone who really counted. We don't; faggots; we're just a bad dream the real world is having,andthereal world's waking up. And he's dead.

The second one is towards the end of the play. I don't want to give away the speaker if you haven't seen it:

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated, and we'll struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.

The twenty professional Sicilian mourners bit still makes me laugh, although I thought it was funnier in the play when you don't actually see them.

yeah, I had to include that line even though it's not strictly relevant to the discussion. The way it was done in the movie worked for me, because I couldn't figure out who on earth those black shawled people were supposed to be.

I must repeat that, whatever differences you take with the Blade column, the pertinent issue is rights for partners, no matter what they're called.

If you wanted to get really tactical about it, a case could be made for civil unions now, and pushing for marriage down the line once civil unions have gotten folks comfortable with the idea.

I am, however, in total agreement on the HRC cozying up to Bush. The American electorate couldn't trust him to be a "uniter, not a divider," Tony Blair couldn't trust him on Israel-Palestine and HRC sure as hell can't trust him now.

Edward said:
Personally, I find that Blade writer a bit Uncle Tom-ish.

Nothing drives me more crazy than the wide-spread misunderstanding of the behavior patterns of Uncle Tom of Uncle Tom's Cabin. He generally gets used as a metaphor for kissing up to power on the part of those under some form of oppression which is completely, utterly incorrect.

Rather, Uncle Tom, in the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, is the very model of Christian non-violent resistance to oppression. Tom refuses to punish other slaves when Legree tries to use him as an overseer. Tom exerts himself to try to help the other slaves on the Legree plantation at great cost to himself, by giving up some of his own share of food and water, and by supplying them with cotton he's picked himself to enable them to 'produce' enough in a day to avoid punishment. In the face of continued beatings for this, he persists in his behavior.

Eventually, two slaves escape, Emmaline and Cassie. Tom is willing to die rather than give up his knowledge of their plans, though he could have saved himself from punishment by doing so. In fact, he is beaten to death over the issue.

The simple fact of the matter is that Uncle Tom was intended by the author of the novel to be a symbol of Christian pacifistic resistance to evil. If Uncle Tom is a sell-out, so was every slave who failed to run away or rise up in revolt. He certainly put up more defiance than many of the slaves could muster themselves.

Uncle Tom did the right thing (as he saw it through his Christian faith), in defiance of what other people thought. He was certainly no Malcom X, but he wasn't a Sambo figure either.

Give the man some respect. He's a figure of passive resistance, not of selling out.

John Biles,
While I think your view of the character in Stowe's novel is reasonable, the term as Edward used it has been in common usage for a long time and now has very little to do with what the character of Uncle Tom actually did in the novel.
I recommend the wikipedia article about this.

Yes, I am aware of that, but it is based on a complete misreading of the novel and is as if people started saying 'baseball bats' when they mean 'potatos'.

It is common, but it is wrong.

Thanks for the feedback John. I'll search for another metaphor and let the character evolve (with your help, no doubt) into his rightful place in our culture and consciousness.

Any suggestions for replacements? That is, a term/metaphor to suggest cringing obsequiousness?

Edward: uh, the Democratic Party?

"There's no denying it: In my lifetime the quality of life for openly gay people has dramatically improved."

When you think about that it's just about 35 years from Stonewall, it's amazing how far Gay Rights has come. The success has been much faster than say, Civil Rights or Woman's Suffrage. I'd say Gay Rights has to be one of the most successful social movements in modern times.

Mind you, at a party last week where a woman who was the last person on earth to be a lesbian (we're talking an Erin Brockovich type here - big hair, had kids in her teens, etc.) turned up with her equally big-hair-with-dye-job femme partner, it still took me ten minutes to work out...."Ohhh...Adele's gay???"
It'd all be so much easier if one lesbian partner had to have a buzzcut and a leather jacket by statute. Goddamn it, why can't you gay people stick with the stereotypes?

Still got a ways to go in other places though; I remember reading in Moscow News in 1991 where a survey by a pressure group in Russia called the Committee on Sexual Minorities found that 10% of Russians believed that homosexuality should be legalized, 33% believed that there should be compulsory medical treatment, 30% believed in long prison sentences, and 27% believed in 'liquidation' [shudder]. I'd hope that attitudes have changed there, but one is starting from a low base.

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