Thursday, November 6, 2008

The M Word

What a feeling. What a triumph of hope over fear, of positive over negative, of integrity over its lack. It's been a joyous few days. And though no one can claim that racism is now gone, we have proof positive that it will no longer be tolerated. A gentleman of color has risen to the highest office in the world, and he did so with a message of inclusion. There is no more room for bigotry and blind hatred in this wonderful new world.

Not so fast, Paleface.

In the midst of the euphoria that the Obama victory brought about, its exact opposite is also running rampant. In several states, the equal rights of gays were once again denied. And nobody really cares. It's still OK, you see, to condone discrimination against homosexuals. Not just condone it, but encourage it, as in Arkansas, where it is now illegal for a gay couple to adopt a child. Nowhere is this attitude more shocking than in California, the nation's most populous state, and one of its most socially liberal. The passage of Proposition 8, though by a slim margin, once again approves the idea that all men are not created equal. The women aren't, either.

So, California joins the lengthening list of states (26) which have amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. In the past years, each and every time such an amendment is placed on the popular ballot, it has been approved. Each and every time. Except once. In Arizona, in 2006, the measure failed. A re-worded amendment was placed on this year's ballot, and passed. Which leads me to reiterate a question I wondered of gay activists in charge of this fight over a decade ago:

What the fu*k are you doing?

Certainly, the passage of Prop 8 had everything to do with the millions of dollars poured into the campaign by religious groups. They far outspent the "No on 8" group, and spread a thick goo of misinformation and hate-mongering all over the state.

But still, I ask gay activists who have been pushing for legal gay marriage for many years: why?

Specifically, why are you intent on calling our unions marriage? It is that hotbutton buzzword that so inflames the religious right, galvanizing them to shut down any attempts to gain equal rights under the law. Polls show that the majority of Americans approve of equal legal rights for same-sex couples. Let me repeat that. Polls show that over 50% of the American public agree that it is fair for committed gay couples to have the same legal rights and privileges as straight couples. This is even true of people who believe they don't know any gays, even people from states like Wyoming, where they prefer their queers pistol-whipped and strapped to fences. Even there, people agree that same-sex couples should have equal rights under the law.

But about 15 years ago, Gay Activist Leaders (let's call them GALs) decided they wanted our relationships to be called something more than Civil Unions, or Domestic Partnerships. They wanted us all to be married.

It is that word which ignites the ignorant and brings the bigoted into action. Polling done this week in California reveals an astonishing statistic, that African-Americans voted overwhelmingly to deny gay couples equal rights. A minority group which has struggled for their own civil rights for well over a century jumped on the bandwagon to deny another group theirs. This development is solely due to Gay Activists' insistence on using the M Word: marriage. By continually shouting it from the rooftops, our GALs have allowed this issue to be framed as a religious one rather than one of civil equality. The "Yes On 8" crowd shrewdly targeted black churches throughout the state and turned a fight which, at its core, is about equal rights for all, into a question of condoning, and even approving of, homosexuality. Americans as a whole have never been known for their tolerance, religious or otherwise, and African-Americans are no exceptions, even after the fight they themselves seem to have won with the election of a black president.

There doesn't seem to be a solution here. As long as we continue to insist that our unions be called marriages, constitutional bigotry will continue to spread across the nation. If calling our relationships Civil Unions or Domestic Partnerships will no longer suit, let's come up with a brand new name for them. Who the hell cares what they are called, as long as they afford gays the same rights and privileges as the straights? And getting a constitutional amendment reversed is nearly impossible. So, despite what I'm hearing from the GALs, that the fight will go on and progress is being made by bringing this issue before the American public, I know in my gut that the cause of our equality is taking backward steps.

In California, and everyplace else in this country, that will continue to happen, as long as we use the M Word.