Well, it worked. Karl Rove’s goal was to get four million Evangelical voters who had skipped the 2000 election to come to the polls in 2004. His strategy was to use gay men and lesbians as the "bait," through ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage. And it worked. My youngest son, a lawyer, worked at the polls in Ohio, where he reported large numbers of voters who came in to "vote against the queers."
Two items from the ongoing “culture war” give evidence of the challenges facing the gay community in the wake of the 2004 election. I could have chosen many others, but these will serve to illustrate my point.
- Item One: As I write this, NBC and CBS have just rejected as “too controversial” an advertisement by the United Church of Christ, in which the Church declared itself to be—gasp!—a place where everyone is welcome, no matter what their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Evidently, extending a welcome to gay parishioners is deemed too shocking/immoral for the consumption of these networks’ audiences, accustomed as they are to uniformly tasteful and decorous programming.
- Item Two: An Indiana appellate court, citing decisions from several other states, has confirmed the parental rights of the non-biological mother of a child born to lesbian partners. The two had been in a committed relationship for nine years, and the plaintiff’s brother had donated the sperm used to allow the other to become pregnant. In issuing a decision sure to be criticized by the religious right, the Court pointedly noted that its “paramount concern should be with the effect of our laws on the reality of children’s lives. It is not the courts that have engendered the diverse composition of today’s families…But it is the courts that are required to define, declare and protect the rights of children raised in these families..”
What is the connection between these two items? It is the fact that, historically, the judiciary has been the branch of government that has protected us from attempts to legislate the sorts of majoritarian bigotry responsible for the craven behavior of CBS and NBC. And it is the branch of government that is the focus of an escalating and unrelenting attack by the Christian Taliban that currently controls this country. Make no mistake: these zealots are not “conservatives” under any recognizable definition of that term. Real conservatives believe in following and “conserving” legal precedents and traditions. The people now in control are radicals bent on destroying those traditions.
Immediately following the election, right-wing ideologues in Congress introduced several new “court-stripping” measures; one of those proposes to bar the courts from hearing all cases alleging violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. It is easy enough to dismiss such efforts—our entire system is based upon separation of powers, and such proposals are blatantly unconstitutional. Now. But as I have noted in this space before, the goal of the hard-right fundamentalists who provided Bush with his crucial margin is nothing less than the replacement of our secular government with a theocratic regime, and they know that in order to accomplish that, they must reshape the federal courts. Put enough radical nominees on the bench, and the constitutional safeguards against theocracy will fall. It won’t happen overnight, but once there is a critical mass of such appointees, it will be inexorable.
It is past time for liberals, moderates and genuine conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, religious and nonreligious Americans—all of us who are concerned about the direction our country is taking—to come together and loudly and forcefully reject the position of those who would disenfranchise and marginalize people who do not share their very narrow version of “biblical morality.” We must loudly and forcefully reject those who insist that holding a different vision of America makes us less worthy, less patriotic, less American.
I hate to be the voice of doom and gloom, but if the political pendulum doesn’t begin swinging back in 2006—if genuine conservatives, moderates and liberals don’t retake control of the Senate and stop the judicial nominating train that is rushing toward the Taliban station—it won’t just be the gay community that is at risk. It will be all of us who are in any way “different” from the approved moral model.
Those of us who believe that morality has very little to do with the gender of the person you sleep with—those of us who believe morality requires inclusiveness, kindness, reason, tolerance and compassion—had better make ourselves heard. If not, we may find ourselves treated as outsiders not just at NBC and CBS, but in America.