Gay Rights, Abortion Lose – – Meanness Wins. Is this the 50s?

The New York State Senate‘s rejection of a bill that would have allowed marriage between two people who love each other — but happen to be gay — is just the most recent in a string of set-backs in the area of gay rights. Other set-backs have been occurring, or are currently looming, in women’s rights, specifically reproductive rights. One wonders about the mood of this country.

This particular one wonders if anyone else is harking back, with more than a little sadness, to the 1950s. If you weren’t around then, I can tell you it was a strange decade. Great optimism for the future — well, there’s not much of that today — while simultaneously there was terrible meanness behind the McCarthy witch hunts and the denial of women’s rights, plus a certain amount of smugness embedded into a bland, national complacency.

At ladies’ bridge parties there were small china ashtrays on each corner of the table and the conversation usually drifted toward those lovely wonder drugs emerging to give instant relief for any problem. The conversation never drifted toward back-alley abortions, unless someone had recently died and the others knew how it had happened. Those of us who had jobs — running a house, entertaining for the husband’s business, raising children; those were not considered jobs — usually had male counterparts doing the exact same thing for twice the salary. One did not complain. If one were middle class white, and involved in any sort of civil rights work, one never brought that up at the bridge table.  It was a strange decade.

Today’s New York Times story quotes senators who voted against the same-sex marriage bill as saying “the public is gripped by economic anxiety and remain(s) uneasy about changing the state’s definition of marriage.” The San Francisco Chronicle article includes a comment from sponsoring Senator Thomas Duane, “I wasn’t expecting betrayal.” I’m sure those are both accurate reports. Whatever its underlying economic, political or social fears, the public seems also to harbor a degree of meanness in discounting the rights of others.

If you substitute a measure of cynicism or hopelessness about the future for the complacency of a half-century ago, and throw in the self-righteousness of those who for religious or political reasons justify the denial of rights to their fellow citizens, it’s easy to draw parallels between this decade and that one long ago.

In the fifties the groundwork was being laid for civil rights, for women’s liberation, for Roe v Wade and the upheavals that eventually led to progress, by courageous and energetic people of all sorts. I wish I could list myself in that number; I was at the bridge table trying to pretend normalcy in a life gone amok.  Today there are others working just as hard for the rights of their fellow men and women.

I hope they can keep the faith.


  1. “I hope they can keep the faith”… me too. but they are having faith in the wrong type of things. It’s so sad.. what is this world coming to? Please think about this.

  2. Thanks for documenting the inequities of this long struggle. I think one optimistic thing to keep in mind is that, as you point out with other times when rights have been denied, justice does have a way of eventually prevailing. It’s hard, though, to wait so long and through so many reverses.

  3. The vicious, naked cruelty of Maggie Gallagher and her acolytes is once again on display, as these evil people gloat over the fact that they have succeeded, yet again, in further entrenching homophobic discrimination with respect to this issue and with respect to their ongoing efforts to deny to gay Americans rights so basic that most heterosexuals don’t give them a second thought. These people must be condemned for what they are – the quintessence of evil, masquerading (with their pious rectitude and mealy-mouthed platitudes) as forces for good. Yet again, I see (as a naturalized US citizen) the shocking gap that exists, and that has always existed, in American society – the gap between what is said and what is done. This gap has yawned wide on other occasions in US history, and I draw some measure of comfort from the fact that those who stand on the wrong side of this gap have always lost in the long run, despite short-run setbacks for the forces of good. Those who promoted slavery were ultimately defeated. Those who promoted racial segregation were ultimately defeated (just as those who promoted apartheid in the country of my birth and upbringing were ultimately defeated). And those who stand on the wrong side of this gap with respect to the issue of gay marriage will, in the end, be defeated.

    Gallagher and her fellow fanatics need to be reminded of the fact that the provisions of our Constitution strictly prohibit the state from meddling in ecclesiastical matters, and strictly prohibit the church from meddling in affairs of state. When lawmakers forget this – when lawmakers permit their personal religious biases to interfere with the discharge of their duties and the oath that they took – an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, as well as the respective state constitutions – they prostitute themselves and violate that oath. What is the point of having a written Constitution if those who are tasked with developing law and public policy in conformance with the strictures imposed on legislative bodies by that Constitution display such callous disregard for the provisions of that Constitution?

    The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment mandates that any two groups of persons who are “similarly situated” with respect to the legitimate purposes of the law may not be treated differently by that law, with resultant adverse impact to members of one of the groups concerned. The right to marry has been deemed by the US Supreme Court to be a “fundamental” right (Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374 (1978)), on a par with other such rights as the right to free speech. The Court has also made it absolutely clear that it views discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as both immoral and unconstitutional (see Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), in which the Court struck down a voter-approved amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have rescinded all laws, at all levels of state government, that protected gay persons from discrimination at the hands of heterosexual persons (while leaving intact the operation of these laws insofar as they protected heterosexual persons from discrimination at the hands of gay persons), and which would have had the “ultimate effect” of permanently prohibiting the enactment of any measures, at all levels of state government, that would have protected gay persons from such discrimination in the future). Not long ago, the Court struck down all state statutes that prohibited gay persons from having sex, even in the privacy of their own homes (Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)) (such laws existed in some 14 states at the time that the Court handed down this ruling). In so doing, the Court explicitly and bluntly overturned an earlier ruling, handed down just 17 years previously, in which that same Court had upheld such statutes in an opinion that was laced with ugly homophobic invective, and that was widely condemned by constitutional scholars as being one of the contemporary Court’s most embarrassing and humiliating failures (Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986)). In Lawrence, the Court was big enough to apologize to gay Americans, and to acknowledge the gross injustice that it had perpetrated against gay Americans in Bowers (“[Bowers’] continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons… The rationale of Bowers does not withstand careful analysis… Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”) The Court also struck down so-called “miscegenation” statutes that prohibited white persons from marrying non-white persons many years ago (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)). The right to marry the person with whom one is in love and with whom one wishes to spend the rest of one’ life is a right so fundamental that it is arguably more important to most people than the right to vote (assuming that the reader of this comment is straight, which would you prefer to lose – your right to vote in the next election, or your marriage?).

    Two lawyers who could not be more ideologically incompatible have joined their considerable individual resources and talents to mount a direct attack against California’s “Proposition 8”, which amended the California state constitution to prohibit gay marriage, shortly after the California Supreme Court handed down a decision holding that the prohibition of gay marriage violated both the due process and the equal protection provisions of the California state constitution (in re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal.4th 757 (2008)). During the “window period” between the handing down of this decision and the passage of Proposition 8, more than 18,000 gay couples married (these marriages have been left undisturbed). Former US Solicitor General Ted Olsen and trial attorney David Boies (who opposed each other in the case of Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), which effectively decided the outcome of the Presidential elections of 2000) have filed suit in federal district court, seeking to overturn Proposition 8 on US constitutional grounds. The US district court will not try this case until well into next year. The losing side will appeal the outcome to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which could take six months or more to hand down a decision. The losing side on that decision will petition the US Supreme Court for certiorari (which will almost certainly be granted should the Ninth Circuit find in favour of the plaintiffs (i.e., should the Ninth Circuit overturn Proposition 8 and restore the right to marry to gay couples in California)). Boies wrote an article that appeared in “The Wall Street Journal” explaining the reason that this unlikely pair decided to join forces and attack Proposition 8. To excerpt from this article: “Gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters, our teachers and doctors, our friends and neighbors, our parents and children. It is time, indeed past time, that we accord them the basic human right to marry the person they love. It is time, indeed past time, that our Constitution fulfill its promise of equal protection and due process for all citizens by now eliminating the last remnant of centuries of misguided state discrimination against gays and lesbians…The argument in favor of Proposition 8 ultimately comes down to no more than the tautological assertion that a marriage is between a man and a woman. But a slogan is not a substitute for constitutional analysis. Law is about justice, not bumper stickers.”

    A more eloquent statement of the principles involved would be difficult to imagine.

    Regardless of the defeat we suffered in New York, we will not give up. Our community has one characteristic in our favour – we never give up. We never stop fighting. As soon as we suffer a defeat in one jurisdiction, we enjoy a victory in another (while we lost the right to marry in Maine last month, we also gained all of the rights, privileges, and benefits of marriage (but not the name) in the State of Washington). A bill to allow gay marriage in Washington, D.C. passed its first reading by a wide majority (11 – 2) a few days ago. We are already campaigning to undo Proposition 8 at the ballot box – a measure intended to repeal Proposition 8 will appear in November 2010. Should we lose in 2012, we will try again in 2012. Days from now, we will push for gay marriage in New Jersey.

    Ad hominem is seldom justified or appropriate as a debating technique – it debases the party making the accusations and it ducks the issue under debate. However, when the personal behaviour of those who expound a particular ideal is grossly at variance with that ideal, and when those who expound that ideal point fingers of accusation at others, then it is both appropriate and justified to examine the behaviour of those in question. The religious bigotry of Gallagher and her fellow gay-bashers is particularly disgusting in the face of fresh revelations about the behaviour of the Catholic Church, which has a long and sordid history of passing pedophile priests from parish to parish, instead of turning them in and instead of informing the police. Days ago, news broke that the police in Ireland were actually complicit with the Catholic Church in hushing up these incidents. In one case, the police referred the activities of a priest who had sodomized literally dozens of choirboys to the Archbishop, instead of filing charges and bringing the matter to the attention of the state attorney. The church has had to pay out literally hundreds of millions of dollars to the victims of such serial child rapists, many of whom have forcibly sodomized one crop of choirboys after another.

    The records of those who voted in favour of the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) back in 1996 are similarly particularly disgusting. Newt Gingrich (thrice married) served his second wife with divorce papers immediately following a major surgery as she lay dying of ovarian cancer in the hospital (in voting for the DOMA, Gingrich also voted to deny his own gay sister the right to marry). Bob Barr (thrice married) – a fierce opponent of abortion – funded his second wife’s abortion; this marriage collapsed after he was photographed licking whipped cream from the breasts of a stripper at a fundraiser. Sonny Bono (thrice married) destroyed his relationship with his lesbian daughter after voting for the DOMA – and then skiid into a tree while high on painkillers. On and on the list went – like actors in the finest French farce. Which of these marriages were each of these lawmakers trying to “defend” by voting for this measure? All three marriages in all three cases?

    Gallagher and her saintly friends should contemplate a harsh reality. Prejudice and bigotry are no substitute for love and personal understanding. Study after study has shown – absolutely definitively – that those Americans who claim to know one or more gay men or women personally are much, much less likely to harbour homophobic views than are those Americans who claim not to know any gay men or women personally. Gay people have a corresponding duty, both to themselves and to their community – it is inexcusable for a gay adult to remain closeted, particularly when those around that person engage in blatantly homophobic speech or conduct. It is far more difficult to insult somebody to their face than it is to do so behind their back.

    I do not pretend that coming out is always without personal risk. In 2006, I lost a high-paying job when my manager learned, by performing a Google search against my name, that I am gay. I was livid at the time – but now, I am glad that I did not spend long at that firm, contributing my considerable skills and experience to that firm’s bottom line. I have no desire to work alongside, or under, homophobic bastards.

    In the last analysis, Gallagher and her followers are moral cripples.


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