The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Dickens’ classic “A Tale of Two Cities” begins with the sentence, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” That’s a pretty apt description of the world the gay community inhabits right now.

Two national polls in as many months have found, for the first time, narrow majorities of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage. A judge recently struck down “don’t ask, don’t tell” and a Congressional vote that would repeal it is pending as I write this. In California, Proposition 8 has been found unconstitutional, and neither the Governor nor the Attorney General has proposed to appeal that ruling.

Signs of favorable cultural change are everywhere; the New York Times runs same-sex wedding announcements, House and Garden television routinely showcases renovations of homes owned by gay couples. (Even in the Indianapolis Star, the real estate story last week pictured the home of a gay couple with children, with no commentary whatsoever.) Poll after poll documents the overwhelmingly accepting attitudes of people under 35.

The best of times.

And then there are the dark clouds.

It is a truism that economic uncertainty generates intergroup tensions. Prejudice against Jews, Catholics, Muslims, immigrants and gays spikes in times of economic distress, and this is one of those times.

If it were only the economy, that would be troubling enough. But as I wrote last month, we seem to be in the throes of a massive cultural backlash. Older white, Protestant, heterosexual males are not going to relinquish their previously privileged status in our society without a fight. What makes it worse is that most of them cannot articulate what it is that makes them so furious—probably because they really don’t know themselves. They just know that the world they were born into (or think they were born into—that “leave it to Beaver” world that existed, if at all, for a very few families) has changed.

If you listen to the Tea Party activists for even a few minutes, you cannot help but be struck by the fact that they cannot tell you what they are for. They can rant on and on about what they are against—much like a cranky two-year-old, or that character from “Broadcast News” who was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

So far, that rage has not had much effect upon the fight for gay equality. We have some crazy candidates like the woman who won the GOP primary in Delaware, who—among other things–wants to outlaw gays and masturbation (good luck with that, honey), or the Montana Republican platform provision advocating the re-criminalization of homosexuality, but those are embarrassments even to the three sane people left in the GOP.

The balance of power, however, can change pretty quickly. We are less than two months away from an election where the crazy folks are energized and the rational folks are dispirited. If, as many of our pundits predict, the Republicans recapture Congress, it won’t be the party of Reagan and Bush that gains power. Difficult as it may be to believe, the current crop of candidates is far to the right of either of those very right-wing Republican leaders. Even the few centrist Republicans who remain—and they truly are few, and highly endangered—have no choice but to pander to the zealots who have for all intents and purposes taken control of one of America’s major political parties. As someone who worked hard for the GOP for over 35 years, it breaks my heart to see what has become of the party.

There’s another quote that seems apt right now: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If good people don’t vote in large numbers, and the haters and know-nothings take the reins of power, “the best of times” will be a fleeting memory.