Monday, June 1, 2015

A Catholic Nation Resoundingly Supports Equal Rights for LGBT People, and the U.S. Catholic Right and Its Centrist Enablers Want to Talk About . . . Polygamy?

Steve and I had dinner yesterday with some friends of ours who have long been powerful and effective activists for civil rights. They're an African-American couple who have played, each in his/her field, an extraordinary role in local movements to protect and extend the rights of people of color, women, the poor, LGBT folks, etc., over many years now.

Like me, both of these folks grew up in Arkansas. We're all roughly the same age. A topic of our discussion last evening: I told them I saw a photograph last week of a woman holding up a sign in the Alabama statehouse decrying same-sex marriage as an abomination that would lead to every abomination imaginable, if we permit the godless Supreme Court to defy God and cross this line.

As I told them, when I see photos like that today, I inevitably picture that very same person a generation or two back, holding up a sign shouting in front of the Arkansas state capitol in 1957 about the mongrelization of the white race, the apocalyptic abominations that are about to ensue after the godless Supreme Court has allowed racial mixing by integrating the schools.

Same message. Same biblical allusions. Different generations. Different subject matter. 

But same, same, same nonetheless. The very same people generation after generation trying the very same tactics to defend their power and privilege and exclude others from enjoying civil rights. The very same people employing the same shameful, disreputable slippery-slope arguments to keep the door shut to a group of people seeking to claim their rights, by pretending that according rights to that marginalized group right in front of our faces will open the door to, well, everything imaginable down the road.

All of this is very much in my mind in the past few days as I see the inevitable turd-in-the-punchbowl conversations popping up at Catholic blog sites and elsewhere about the slippery slope represented by same-sex marriage, after the Irish rainbow referendum. Let the gays marry, and soon you'll have polygamists beating down the doors for their right to marry, the argument goes.

Ross Douthat has just — and entirely predictably — offered that argument in a New York Times op-ed piece, and — again, entirely predictably — the liberal Catholic establishment as represented by the Commonweal crowd (you know, the heterosexual Catholic folks who have long taken for granted their right to contracept without entertaining arguments that the apocalypse will soon be at hand) is falling all over itself to pretend that Douthat's argument is sensible, deserves attention, and points to a very real danger about which we should be vigilant as the gays demand to cross the lines we've drawn for them.

When my high school in south Arkansas was integrated in 1967 by a hand-picked group of courageous black students, the boys in my p.e. class on several occasions decided to stage an "interview" of several of the black students who happened to be in this class. One of these hapless young men would be selected (as in forced) to stand in front of the rest of us and answer any questions we wanted to direct to him about the dire dangers of race-mixing. The coaches were never present at these "interviews," and, in retrospect, I have to wonder if they were colluding with the boys staging these events, since they never arrived in the gym until well after the "interviews" had taken place.

The young men being put on the spot in this way could hardly have resisted, since they were very much a minority in these classes — 1 or 2 to 40 or more white students. And as someone who on more than one occasion received hard knocks in these gym classes for daring to be made different than those in the mainstream, I knew — we all knew — that physical violence was a very real threat, if these young men resisted being forced to answer our questions. And that the coaches would not turn a hair at the physical disciplining of the aberrant students by the rest of us.

These "interviews" were sickening exercises in the "right" of white young men to lord it over black young men, to instruct them in the dangers of the enterprise they had undertaken when they fatuously imagined that they, too, should have rights — since where will this process lead except to hell, when the door opens to one imaginary "right"? Who can possibly prevent its being opened after that to another and another imaginary "right"?

Who knows where any of this will end?

Who knows what might happen if we straight white males lose control of everything? The bible says, after all . . . . These were the lynchpin assumptions on which everything hinged in these "interviews": the danger posed to, well, everyone, if straight white males lost control.

What seems so odd about those conversations both then and now: the inability of those posing these questions and of the political and religious centrists who inevitably fall all over themselves to carry water for those posing these questions to ask when and where and how and why God has ordained straight white men to rule the world? When and where and how and why has God made these folks the moral arbiters of everything in the world?

And when are the rest of us going to be afforded the opportunity to put them, the old boys of both genders who demand that we change the subject to polygamy rather than same-sex marriage after the latter has received the resounding support of a Catholic nation, on stage and interview them? And ask them how well the churches are thriving in the period in which they have a stranglehold on power in the churches?

Just asking from the nowhere place these folks have accorded me. (I was silent in the "interviews" in my high school, by the way. Wouldn't have dared to open my mouth and say what I really thought about what was going on in those "interviews.")

For a footnote to this discussion, please see this posting I made later in the same day.

The headscratcher illustration is from The Evening Ledger (Philadelphia, May 4, 1916), and was uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Johnny Automatic of Open Clip Art Library.

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