Friday, July 17, 2009

End of Week News Analysis: A Mother's Perspective on Gay Rights; the Sotomayor Hearings; and the Democratic Party

A smattering of news articles and blog commentary that have caught my attention as I try to catch up after several weeks out of the country, during which I did not have frequent internet access:

First, a powerful plea from the heart by an Irish mother of two gay sons. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been widely circulated. But it richly deserves to be heard.

Helen Doody wrote an open letter to Irish justice minister Dermot Ahern when Mr. Ahern announced plans in June to promote a civil partnership bill in Ireland. The bill is being stoutly resisted by many gays and lesbians in Ireland, along with those in solidarity with them, because it gives second-class status to gay people and our relationships. It withholds from those in civil partnerships many fundamental rights and advantages accruing to marriage.

(Remember how some Catholic bishops like Archbishop Niederauer in San Francisco who oppose same-sex marriage have assured us that they don’t have problems with civil unions for gay couples, since those unions confer the same rights that marriage does without claiming to be marriages? Turns out such bishops may not have been speaking truthfully. Anywhere civil unions are proposed as an alternative to gay marriage, they turn out to be second-class arrangements excluding gay couples in civil unions from key rights and privileges granted to married couples.

And that’s not to mention the absurd pretense of some Catholic bishops that they support gay rights by supporting civil unions. The consistent strategy of the leaders of the Catholic church around the world is to oppose any and all rights for gay persons until it becomes inopportune to continue resisting these rights—while the church professes to be a strong supporter of human rights.)

Helen Doody’s letter to Dermont Ahern follows on one written by one of her gay sons, Declan, which Mr. Ahern didn’t answer. Helen Doody’s letter tells Mr. Ahern that she and other mothers of gay children deserve to have their voices heard and to know why a justice minister would deny justice to any group while claiming to promote the rights of those that group when it experiences injustice.

This is a powerful statement from the heart by a Catholic mother in a traditionally Catholic country. As a Catholic and as a mother, Helen Doody argues for simple, mere justice for her children and for the children of other mothers who do not receive just treatment in Irish society simply because they happen to be gay. An excerpt:

When I heard on the news that gay people would now finally be able to register the relationships like any married couple I finally thought things had changed and I suppose many other people around the country like me thought the same. However I have now realised that what you plan on doing is nothing short of telling the gay community that they are still not equal. You will not tell my sons that they are not equal to their brothers, friends and the rest of society. Your Civil Partnership Bill is not good enough for my family, and hundreds, thousands of other families in this country. I might not be the smartest person in this country but even I can tell you that this bill is all but worthless and will only further the opinion that gay people are not the same as everyone else.
have been there for all my sons when they have had their hearts broken by girlfriends and boyfriends. I helped them pick out gifts on Valentines day and shopped around for a Tux for the Debs. I have met boyfriends and girlfriends, I have liked some and been frosty to others. I have thought about each and every single of them getting married to someone that they love and who will love them back as much as I do.
I have six sons Mr Ahern, six very beautiful boys who became six very beautiful and upstanding young men!
Two of my boys are gay. Four are straight. Two are firemen. Two love playing video games. One loves to cook. Three of them love cars. Five of them have had their tonsils out.
All of them are my sons.
You have the power to change this country so do the right thing and change this country for the better, wake up and realise that there is still time to clean up this mess and give gay couples the same rights as straight couples.

I’m particularly struck by the compelling conclusion: you have the power to change this country, so do the right thing. That’s what I want to keep telling our president, as I try to be faithful to his request that we hold him to the promises he made when he campaigned.

Words of support from him followed by action on his part would do a world of good to make the situation of gay American citizens better. The president has the bully pulpit, and from that pulpit, he has the power to speak words and make decisions that will make it harder for someone to be fired solely because she is a lesbian, for a gay man visiting his partner in the hospital to be turned away, and for a young gay or lesbian person walking down the street minding his or her business to be assaulted by a hooligan who then gets away with his crime by claiming gay panic.

As Richard Rodriguez has argued, if women’s pleas for empathy and justice for their gay children could be heard—if all of us, including our leaders, could frame the issue of gay rights as a family issue, and could imagine what we might feel and do if we were the mother of a child whose rights were denied—then our world would be a much different place.

And contrast what Rodriguez says when he observes that “the revolution [in attitudes towards gay human beings] will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children” with what Nathaniel Frank has to say about the attack on Sonia Sotomayor by white male critics. Those attacking Sotomayor in the hearings this week and on talk radio shows and right-wing blogs want us to believe their astonishing claim that, as a Latina, Sotomayor is susceptible to prejudice to which they, as white (straight) men, would not be susceptible.

The claim of so many white males who posture as arbiters of the normal and objective in both church and society is preposterous—particularly when the rest of us can see so clearly that what is at stake in these pretenses to objectivity is not a defense of objectivity, but of the unwarranted power and privilege that accrue to being white, male, and heterosexual or heterosexual-posturing.

As Frank notes, this claim harms those making it, just as it harms all of society by apotheosizing the interests of one small group of people as the overweening values and “truths” to which all the rest of us ought to bow:

This is precisely the value of diversity: It can take people who are not living in the bubble of prosperous white male privilege to recognize how the markings of their identity may shape their actions. To ignore the real ways that our experiences, background, ambitions, and emotions affect us is a recipe for the destructive unconscious behavior -- discrimination, hypocrisy, dishonesty, infidelity -- that so many powerful white men engage in (especially, it seems, politicians). Too many of them live their lives in an emotional closet of which they know not.

And, finally, in the Democrats-are-not-the-solution-but-part-of-the-problem category, I recommend the following analysis from Alternet of the behavior of the Democratic party after it received a mandate for change in the last elections:

Bipartisanship is a laudable goal, but it requires intelligent people of goodwill to agree to disagree -- but compromise to get to a goal. The Republicans have shown themselves completely and utterly unwilling to compromise on anything at all. The Republican agenda is to destroy this presidency and regain power in 2012, if not sooner. Yet this agenda, in poll after poll, has been soundly rejected by the American people. So why continue to compromise with people with whom there is no compromise?

Why continue to compromise, indeed? Why continue the foot-dragging and pretense that there is no mandate for progressive change?

The answer seems obvious to me. Too many Democratic leaders are in the pocket of the same powerful economic interest groups to which the Republican party has long since sold its soul. Their goal within the Democratic party is to function as an impediment to change, a foot-dragging weight that will constantly keep progressive change at bay, and will assure that, if change does come, it will be watered down and ineffective.

Why do we keep giving our money to political parties that continuously repay our hopes for progressive change with such paltry recompense? It’s time for some viable progressive options in this country that go beyond the crippling deadlock that the two-party system continues to have on our political imagination and our future.