Allow me to suggest that the real threat to the Republic is not gay weddings. It is gay wedgings–the use of homophobia to create a partisan "wedge issue." Simply put, a wedge issue is the deliberate politicization of a highly charged emotional conflict over social values, intended to drive a wedge between voters and a particular party or candidate. Gun control,especially in the south,can be a wedge issue. ("Those fancy-pants liberals’ll pry this gun out of my cold dead hands..") Vouchers become a wedge issue when the term is used as code for "let’s get your kids out of those classes where they have to sit alongside black children."
One of the disadvantages of writing for a monthly newspaper is the significant lapse of time between submission and publication—if you write about an event while it is occurring, chances are that it will be “stale news” by the time the paper comes out—or worse, the outcome may have changed in the interim, making your observations look irrelevant or naive. Somehow, though, I think the roiling controversy over gay marriage will still be front and center when this column hits print.
As I write this, Republican members of the Indiana House of Representatives have been engaged in theatrical walk-outs over the refusal of Pat Bauer to allow a vote on an amendment to the Indiana Constitution. Not so coincidentally, the President of the United States has just endorsed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Both proposals were prompted by an imminent, horrible threat to the very fabric of our country—the possibility that two people of the same sex might be allowed to assume responsibility for each other’s debts, benefit from each other’s social security contributions, and file joint tax returns.
Allow me to suggest that the real threat to the Republic is not gay weddings. It is gay wedgings—the use of homophobia to create a partisan “wedge issue.” Simply put, a wedge issue is the deliberate politicization of a highly charged emotional conflict over social values, intended to drive a wedge between voters and a particular party or candidate. Gun control—especially in the south—can be a wedge issue. (“Those fancy-pants liberals’ll pry this gun out of my cold dead hands..”) Vouchers become a wedge issue when the term is used as code for “let’s get your kids out of those classes where they have to sit alongside black children.”
The ultimate master of the wedge issue, of course, was Hitler: get rid of those Jews, and us superior Aryans/Germans will be prosperous, happy and rule the world.
Now it is certainly understandable that George W. Bush would need a distraction. He has done so much damage to this country that even Republican partisans have noticed. From packing federal courts with right-wing judges far outside the legal mainstream, to trashing the environment, to rewarding campaign donors, to turning a budget surplus into a deficit my grandchildren will still be paying off, to presiding over the loss of over two million jobs, to invading a country that posed no threat to us…it isn’t a pretty record. Everything this administration has done has been in furtherance of personal gain and political ideology (and a pretty fanatical ideology at that). If the interests of a minority community and the values of our constitution have to be sacrificed in order to turn voters’ attention elsewhere, well—small price to pay!
Because this is a legally and morally corrupt administration, none of this should be surprising. Political observers fully expect the upcoming campaign to be vicious; they expect Karl Rove et al to use every tactic available to return George W. Bush to the White House. So when the Massachusetts court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages, even though the opinion was wonderful, I cringed; when San Francisco began solemnizing gay marriages, I was beside myself. All I could think was “why didn’t the Mayor wait until after November?”
I think I was wrong. I think that the sudden prominence of the issue has given the country something that educators call “a teachable moment.” Polls reflect huge ambivalence on the issue; on the one hand, Americans overall do not believe in same-sex marriage. On the other hand, neither do they believe in bigotry, second-class citizenship, or playing politics with the constitution. Most would be happy to ignore the issue entirely, but the President has now made that impossible. Money is flowing from the national Republican apparatus to state parties, to encourage precisely the sort of grandstanding we have seen here in Indiana. As a result, Americans are going to confront the issue whether they want to or not. Newspapers are running front-page pictures: the lesbian couple in their 80’s who have been together for 51 years; Rosie O’Donnell and her partner making it legal; and the minority leader of the Indiana House of Representatives justifying the shutdown of the state legislature by proclaiming that gay marriages are the “most important issue facing Indiana.”
I have faith in the good will—and good sense—of the American public. Not all of them, certainly—the hatemongers, the wackos, the theocrats, and those insecure about their own sexuality will be loud and angry, and they won’t go away quietly. But they do not represent most Americans. As Frank Rich noted in a recent New York Times column, more people support gay marriage today than supported interracial marriage after the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia.
George W. Bush wants the election to be a referendum on the values of America. So do I.