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Civil marriage, civil rights.

The uproar over same-sex marriage is the greatest, thing to happen to the Republican Party since Richard Nixon's handlers perfected the art of demonizing the black underclass in 1968--a strategy that helped the Republicans win five of the next six presidential elections, culminating in George Bush I's notorious Willie Horton ads, which helped to ensure Michael Dukakis's defeat in 1988.

Thanks in large measure to a majority of sensible judges on the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts, lesbians and gay men have now displaced African-Americans as the favorite bogeymen (and -women) of the Republican Party. Faced with a jobless recovery, disintegrating conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the worst poll numbers of George W. Bush's administration, cynical Republicans are desperate to change the subject. Who can blame them for trying to get us to focus on manned space flights to Mars and same-sex marriage?

Barney Frank identified the crucial question years ago, when Congress passed the notorious Defense of Marriage Act. If gay marriage is finally legalized in America, he asked, are married men going to "smack themselves on the head and say, 'Wow, I could have married a man!'?"

That's not the reason the Republicans are offering for their newest preoccupation, which includes "semidaily" contact between Republican strategists in D.C. and chief aides to Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, a fervent opponent of the decision by his state's highest court. The Republicans' reason, as comedian Bill Maher explained, is that gay marriage "does something to the 'sanctity of marriage,' as if anything you can do drunk out of your mind in front of an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas could be considered sacred. Half the people who pledge eternal love are doing it because one of them is either knocked up, rich, or desperate, but in George Bush's mind, marriage is only a beautiful lifetime bond of love and sharing--kind of like what his Dad has with the Saudis."

All this would be hilarious if it weren't so deadly serious. While the Democrats have so far managed to muster remarkable energy in their effort to defeat a disastrous president, gay marriage is widely perceived as the only issue that might generate comparable enthusiasm within Bush's base. "I can't emphasize how big this issue is for us," Glenn Stanton, an analyst for Focus on the Family, told a reporter. He added darkly that candidates should not try to have it both ways by backing civil unions and opposing gay marriages. That's "like tipping your hat to gays while trying not to antagonize other voters," Stanton explained.

Fortunately, wisdom resides on our side, and no one has articulated it more elegantly than Peter Gomes, the gay Harvard chaplain who is a genuine national treasure. Gomes redefined the terms of the religious debate about homosexuality in his landmark volume The Good Book. When the Massachusetts legislature first tried (and failed) to approve an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage, Gomes parsed the issue this way: "It is not about polygamy. It is not about 'special rights.' It is not about the defense or definition of marriage. It is not about the future shape of the family. It is not about 'hearing the voice of the people.' It is not about the judiciary. It is not about religion, yours or mine.

"It is about, civil rights, the stuff of Adams, Lincoln, Gandhi, King, and Mandela. It is about discrimination by the majority against a minority, an act of discrimination ruled unconstitutional, and hence illegal, by the supreme judicial court. The amendment is not about 'hearing the people,' but rather finding a politically rational way to legalize that which is illegal and unconstitutional."

He asked, "Why should Massachusetts acquiesce in an insidious 'Southern strategy' where civil rights are now to he bartered away on the grounds of sex rather than race? ... When Massachusetts struggles to advance liberty, she fulfills her destiny."

And when we turn George W. Bush out of office, we will have fulfilled ours.
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Title Annotation:broadside
Author:Kaiser, Charles
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 30, 2004
Words:665
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