The most serious potential consequence of this backlash is the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The President and a number of members of Congress have expressed support for such an amendment. (They can read the polls, although the evidence would suggest they can’t–or don’t–read much else.)
The New Year is shaping up to be a very dangerous one—for the gay community, certainly, but also for all of America.
Gay Americans face a backlash to the progress of the past decade. In 2003, there were real legal breakthroughs: the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas and on its heels, the Massachusetts marriage case. After Lawrence, government can no longer make sexual identity a crime. The legacy of the Massachusetts marriage decision is murkier; there is a very good chance that voters in that state—like voters in Hawaii—will simply amend the state constitution to avoid compliance. But whatever the practical result of the ruling, it has contributed to the fears and latent bigotries of millions of Americans. Those fears were already stoked by the legalization of same-sex marriage in several European countries and Canada. Polls suggest serious (although likely temporary) erosion in support for gay equal rights.
The most serious potential consequence of this backlash is the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The President and a number of members of Congress have expressed support for such an amendment. (They can read the polls, although the evidence would suggest they can’t—or don’t—read much else.) Such an amendment would be a disaster for all of us, not just the gay community. It would signal the first time in U.S. history that the constitution was amended to restrict, rather than expand, human rights, and would have a profound effect on our sense of what America is all about.
That American self-image is under attack on many other fronts as well. We conceive of the United States as the “anti-imperialism” country, using force only when absolutely necessary. Whatever our deviations from that image in the past, they have been covert, not public. Despite Hitler’s takeover of several countries, early reports of concentration camps, and attacks on our allies, we did not enter World War II until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Yet this year, we thumbed our nose at the international community and invaded Iraq on the basis of patently fabricated evidence of “weapons of mass destruction.” Leaving aside the consequences of that action—which most knowledgeable observers believe made us less safe, not more—it was inconsistent with national policies that had been followed by Presidents of both parties and a sharp departure from deeply held national values.
Foreign adventurism and unilateralism abroad have been joined by police-state tactics at home. From John Ashcroft’s Justice Department to the misnamed Patriot Act, we have seen wholesale violations of constitutional protections justified in the name of national security, while measures that might actually make us more secure—like funding local homeland security efforts—are ignored. (You may be innocent until proven guilty on Matlock or Law and Order, but increasingly not in George Bush’s America.)
Meanwhile, the country that has prided itself on equal opportunity and economic freedom has fewer opportunities and less freedom. We are rapidly becoming a nation of rich and poor, with a vanishing middle-class. We’ve lost 2.3 million jobs during the past three years. We invest less in those programs—like education and transportation—that enable people to move out of poverty, and more in subsidies for favored special interests. These trends have dramatically accelerated under this administration, which has driven the country deeply in debt to pay for political giveaways. Non-defense spending—that is, spending having nothing to do with the Iraq adventurism or homeland security—has risen 20.8% since Bush took office. Worse, we are borrowing the money and postponing the bill, which our children and grandchildren will pay. Economist Paul Krugman warns that a continuation of current economic policies will make America a third-world nation within the next quarter-century.
What can ordinary citizens do about any of this? For starters, everyone who cares—and it may be that there aren’t enough of us, in which case we are destined to stand by and watch America decline—must work tirelessly from now until November on our own regime change. There is no guarantee that any Democrat will be able to reverse all the damage, but it is absolutely certain that four more years of the Bush Administration will inflict irreparable harm.
If we want our country back—a country committed to equality and fair play for all citizens, a country that does its best to live up to its ideals—we need to take it back. This year.