By Chris Keith
I refuse merely to be tolerated, for it damages my love of love and my love of liberty.
Jean Cocteau, Le Livre Blanc
As states continue to fall like dominoes with court rulings legalizing gay marriage, it is more important than ever to seriously examine the case for gay marriage and the motivations of the social forces that stridently seek to oppose it as a last not-yet-toppled bastion of so-called conservative American values.
The culture wars continue, despite the liberated, diplomatic, moderate and conciliatory tone of the Obama administration. With nation-threatening issues such as climate change, health care reform, the economy, energy independence and education rightly taking the foreground as they should in any responsible community of citizens, I expect that Obama has a plan in the back of his closet to expand and legalize the rights of gay and lesbian Americans.
While we are surely not a patient people, and the time for courage is now, there is a strong case to be made for attacking issues that are of primary material importance to the average Joe and Joane, so that when new leadership saves their home, restores their job, better educates their children and provides health care, they might be able to take a breath and look with fresh eyes and an open heart at the concept of equal rights and justice for those who may appear different but are really just like them.
Perhaps we will get to the point where the dual Inaugural prayers spoken in support of our first black president by Rev. Rick Warren and Rev. Joseph Lowery will not stop at humility but encourage justice, and not stop the self-affirmative chants of all the minorities before we get to the gay is okay.
While it may sound trite to spout the words of the Declaration of Independence as our founding document about all being created equal, this remains the core principal in all pursuits of social justice and equality. Underlying this, is a less often articulated idea that is sorely absent from the current debate over gay rights and the place of gay people in society including military service and the right to marry. Simply put, both freedom and love are indivisible. In the same way that loving someone only adds to the mix rather than takes something from the communal ethos, no person's or family's or society's freedom is diminished when more people are allowed to be free.
Expanding freedom and equality to African Americans, immigrants or gays and lesbians in no way takes anything away from heterosexual couples or families, as is constantly and insidiously spun by not only the Christian Right, but even by less fiery and extreme moderate people of other faiths or no faith. This is always the insinuation with regard to the marriage debate: If they can get married and have or adopt children, the traditional (whatever that means?) family is somehow put at risk" but HOW?
Not a single voice over this entire debate going back into history or for the last thirty years or so in America has ever explained the mysterious alchemy of how committed gay partners living and building a life together with marriage rights, tax and insurance benefits and the ability to lovingly and supportively raise children next door in any way violates a sanctity of marriage.
It is time those who object to equality come up with a real argument and it is time for those who believe in the expansion of freedom to demand it of them. It comes full on from both sides: judgmental Christian fundamentalism, which completely negates Christ's central admonition to Love Thy Neighbor, and through the ancient and enshrined homophobia of a super-hypocritical Catholicism, which has the audacity to attack homosexuals while slamming their own closet doors shut on internal anti-gay discrimination and child abuse. Islamists in Egypt (an ally?) and recently in Iran, have murdered gay male teens by hanging.
This is not my faith, because it takes no account of the need for freedom to make our own choices and allow for self-determination. We can't have it both ways in America where the Founders are invoked to raise the clarion call of freedom one minute, and as purveyors of religious zealotry at home and colonialism abroad the next. These are incompatible and must be rejected.
There is also more to this debate than meets the eye in terms of the grasping for political power. It is the manifestation of a larger battle of political ideologies at the heart of the relentless resistance to the politics of positive change on the part of the radical Christian right who have co-opted a now failed Republican party that has ceded its powerful center of individual liberty in favor of being on the fringe of political discourse.
Simultaneously, the Democratic left has never seemed comfortable with fighting in the language of religion in order to stand up for core principles until recently. It is hard to imagine a day when brilliant, intelligent conservatives who valued freedom were a major force in the political dialogue. In the 1960s, Frank Meyer in his book In Defense of Freedom, said:
The weight of the collective, of society,' upon the individual person, limiting his or her access to the transcendental sources of their being, to the foundations of value outside history and outside of society: this is the prime cause of the human malaise which the New Conservatives describe so well. The social boredom,' the alienation,' which they lament, is not a result of a loss of community,' but the result of an excess of state-enforced community.
For community,' except as it is freely created by free individual persons, community conceived as a principle of social order and superior to the individual person, can justify any oppression of individual persons so long as it is carried out in the name of community,' of society, or its agent the state. Persons as such are anathema to the New Conservative doctrine, unless they are mere symbols for orders and ranks and hierarchies, stiffly imposed as in a Byzantine mosaic, signifying the abstract value of diversity.
But Heaven forefend that they be actually diverse, individual human beings, unranked and uncontrolled. There is no place in this conspectus for the person as such, for those who live as individuals humble to God, haughty to man' scorning the bounds of a predetermined estate, vindicating the glory of person as person. Only individual persons, conscious each in their own uniqueness, can reach out and establish relations with other persons, relations charged with the content, vibrant with the tone, that all of us know unmistakably on the basis of our direct awareness. Truth has meaning only for persons; beauty illumines the consciousness only of persons; virtue can be pursued only by persons.
Neither is it easy to believe that a Nobel Prize-winning economist such as Friedrich Hayek could write an essay called Why I Am Not A Conservative, which makes a prescient case for why the right-wing Republicans can neither be moderate nor embrace change:
Conservatives typically lack the courage to welcome the same undersigned change from which new tools of human endeavors will emerge. They look back to the past rather than forward to the future. They have no political principles which enable them to work with people whose moral values differ from their own for a political order where both can obey their convictions. To live and work successfully with others requires more than faithfulness to one's concrete aims. It requires an intellectual commitment to a type of order in which, even on issues which to one are fundamental, others are allowed to pursue different ends. Also important is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion.
When do conservatives any longer talk about the conservation of liberties domestically, or as regards foreign policy? Legislation and court actions in pro-marriage states will force a constitutional challenge to conflicting rulings such as California's Proposition 8 banning gay marriage by popular vote. These states operating under what might now be considered an outdated model of federalism are the laboratories of government acting as the catalyst to binding federal action on this question. But on issues this clearly at the heart of who we are as a people, the government must take action.
Judge/Justice Sotomayor will need to weigh in to assure equal protection of the law as opposed to timid and consoling civil unions that basically amount to throwing a noisy dog a bone. It appears that the these unions are a compromise or stop-gap measure on the part of the Democrats, and at the same time, a tool taken advantage of by the Right to quietly remove a spiritual, if not specifically religious, sanction from gay unions, thus depriving gay citizens of the full weight of the legitimacy of marriage. Slipping quietly under the radar, this manipulation subtly deprives those people of their inherent freedoms, full civil status and ultimately, their personhoods.