Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rollback of Rights for Gay Americans: The Game Plan

What happened in Arkansas with initiated act 1 is getting well-deserved national attention. Today’s New York Times has an op-ed piece by Dan Savage commenting on the legislation (

Savage notes that this new legislation prohibiting the placement of youth in foster or adoptive homes headed by unmarried couples is “ominous.” It is ominous, as he notes, because it means that Arkansas children needing such placement—of whom there is a large number—will now find it harder to be placed. Even a family member cannot now adopt another family member (e.g., a grandchild, niece, nephew, etc.) if that family member heads a household as part of an unmarried couple, gay or straight.

This legislation is ominous as well for other reasons. Savage notes:

Social conservatives are threatening to roll out Arkansas-style adoption bans in other states . . . . Most ominous, once “pro-family” groups start arguing that gay couples are unfit to raise children we might adopt, how long before they argue that we’re unfit to raise those we’ve already adopted? . . . The loss in California last week was heartbreaking. But what may be coming next is terrifying.

Yes. That’s the plan. As someone living in Arkansas, which just went redder in this election than in 2004, I know that Dan Savage is speaking the gospel truth here. The game plan now is to roll back every civil right possible for gay citizens anywhere in the nation. I hear it all around me, every time I log onto the blog of our statewide free paper Arkansas Times.

The Republican party has succeeded in turning itself into a minority party of a tiny core of red states in the South and West (many of them, including mine, the least educated in the nation). Those states, and the party as a whole, are smarting from defeat. They’re looking for blood.

And because neoconservatism does not generate new ideas but recycles old ones as long as they appear to work, the game plan now is to harness the discontent of the red core of the nation and spread that discontent as far and as wide as possible, working on people’s primal fears. Turning back gay marriage is key to this plan.

But it’s a much broader plan that that. As I’ve been noting all week, the real game plan of a religious and political right emboldened by what has just happened in California, Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida (and simultaneously angry at national-level defeat) is to strip gay citizens and couples of every right possible, anywhere that this may be effected.

In the inimitable language of one chasv, a devout Christian and regular contributor to the Arkansas Times blog whom I’ve quoted before, “We don't hate homos we just want them to disapear. We don't want to see 'em anywhere” (

Gay people remain useful, you see. Gay lives, gay faces, gay blood, gay love, gay human beings: we remain useful as tools in a power struggle that goes far beyond any of us. And we will continue to be used in that struggle precisely as long as the religious and political right see a return on their investment in the politics of hate.

We cannot stop this dynamic, unilaterally. We who are gay do not have that kind of power in this nation. Indeed, the name of the game is a continual cruel taunt by the religious and political right to keep assuring us that we are not as powerful as we think: that we do not have the autonomy or control over our own lives (or acceptance and welcome) that we believe we have.

We would make a critical tactical mistake now if we turned to our liberal fellow citizens for assistance—that is, for the kind of assistance that will definitively challenge the lies and cold-hearted persecution of the religious-political right. Liberals do not intend to help. And it’s time we realized this, we gay Americans.

We are the unacknowledged stepchildren of American liberalism. Whenever liberals speak of rights, they place brackets around gay Americans. We are an embarrassment, the weakest link in the chain of liberal politics. We have the potential to present a challenge to the new administration’s platform from the outset, and liberals do not want that challenge. It does not matter if we have no choice except to present the challenge, because we are the challenge, the despised minority that did not find a place set at the table of the new America on election day. Simply by existing we constitute a reminder of the nation's continued unwillingness to set the table for all.

Read all the advice for the new president now pouring forth on liberal news sites and liberal blogs. Look at the list of agenda items. And as you do so, remember that a group of American citizens—a minority group, albeit, but a group of citizens and human beings—has just had its rights taken away by a slim majority in the state of California.

Liberals have rightly been shouting for some time now about the intrusion on the right to privacy under the Bush administration, about the removal of the right to due process before one is imprisoned when one is suspected of terrorism. But notice how faint, how few and far between, those liberal shouts are now that the popular vote of one state removed the rights of gay citizens, in a heartbeat.

Look at the lists of agenda items being proposed for Mr. Obama by liberal bloggers and liberal journalists. See if you can find there any mention of gay citizens and gay rights. I almost never do.

It’s as if we don’t exist. It’s as if we are invisible. And we need to remain invisible, in the view of many liberal individualists. We portend trouble, since there is a price to pay in supporting us: and this is a price liberal individualists have not been willing to pay in the past, and are not willing to pay today.

It’s the price of solidarity. It’s the price of caring more about the rights of groups of people, about human rights, than about the rights of the individual. It’s about a transfer of emphasis from my rights to human rights.

But therein also lies the hope gay Americans and our allies should continue to hold onto, as we battle for change. We have the ability—if we wish and if we choose—to form stronger bonds with other groups seeking protection and extension of human rights at this point in American history. We can and must (if we wish to succeed) show that our struggle for human rights is part of a much broader struggle for human rights rooted in the foundational documents of the nation, one that has been going on in other minority communities for generations.

As well as in many faith communities who, as we do, resist the distortion of authentic religious commitment by the religious and political right. The LGBT community needs to continue building its alliance with those people of faith who are among those most committed in the nation to challenging the theocratic aspirations of the religious right and political groups using the religious right to consolidate their power.

We must do this if we do not want to find ourselves, in the new America of Barack Obama, the invisible people told not merely by the most ignorant among us, but by liberal elites as well, “We don't hate homos we just want them to disapear. We don't want to see 'em anywhere.” We must engage in broad alliance-building based on human rights and the concept of solidarity, if we want to be successful in fighting what will now become a broad-based effort of many political and religious activists to turn back any and every right of gay citizens anyplace in the nation.

Listen to what Albert Mohler, president of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention, has just told Time correspondent Michael A. Lindenberger

On the Evangelical side, Mohler told TIME that religious conservatives see the threat from the gay rights' agenda as much broader than just an affront to traditional notions of marriage. "Full normalization of homosexuality would eventually mean the end to all morals legislation of any kind," he says, echoing the line of reasoning made famous by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent in the high court's 2003 decision striking down state laws that made gay sex a crime.
Gay people are useful: gay lives, gay bodies, gay blood, gay love. In the draconian political end-game being played by those Americans who will not give up their theocratic aspirations as long as there is an ounce of traction in those aspirations, we are a useful shorthand symbol of all that will go wrong if anyone anywhere is allowed an autonomy theocrats do not intend for American citizens. We are the slippery-slope argument embodied: open the door to them, and who knows what chaos will ensue.

It does no good to complain of the obvious cruelty of this use of gay human beings as cannon fodder, or of the misuse of religion to gain political power. Ultimately, what we have to is seek allies everywhere who understand the language of human rights and solidarity, and work with them to marginalize those who seek to marginalize us.

For the sake of the nation, it is not gay citizens who should be driven from sight: it is those who want to make the Constitution null and void who need to be decisively marginalized. It is those who misuse religious language and religious symbols to undermine the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that need to be placed on the defensive, if we hope to build a brighter future.