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Patriarchy: The Next Generation

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What's the opposite of patriarchy? Hint: it's not matriarchy. The answer is equality.

That's the way it's always been. Whenever some oppressed group manages to obtain a measure of equal justice under the law, the retrograde forces immediately go to work to limit the damage to entrenched privilege and, if possible, roll back the gains.

Consider the Fourteenth Amendment, passed after the Civil War to insure that black people would never be forced back into slavery.

The abolitionist and universal suffrage movements had worked hand in hand up to that point. But in a tactic that carries down to our own day, the amendment was interpreted as narrowly as possibly, extending (theoretical) voting rights to black males only and leaving black and white women to fight on into the next century.

Way back then, the Bible said the woman is subject to the man. The Bible's still saying it, but in our day, thank god, it's not also the law of the land.

It also says spare the rod and spoil the child. How far could a biblical patriarch go? Leviticus gives him authority to stone a kid who mouths off. Also illegal now, luckily for me.

These days the Bible says that lying with a man as with a woman is an abomination, a theme that is being taken up by some black preachers who declare that the Bible is the final word on the subject, case closed. Homosexuality is wrong, wrong, wrong. And yet we don't hear anything from these preachers about all those passages, in both the Old and New Testaments-many more than those prohibiting gay sex-where slaves are ordered to obey their masters. No more slavery, but those passages are still in the unchanging, absolutely infallible, timeless Good Book.

The Bible is, among other things, a historical document that endorses slavery as an institution, just as it accepts the radical subjugation of women and children to men. Women and children were property, and biblical patriarchs could dispose of them any way they saw fit, up to and including putting them to death. But we only seem to notice those passages that have to do with preventing new groups from achieving equal status. Once the culture has assimilated the change, Bible passages arguing against equality become dormant for most people.

This selective biblical amnesia has prompted a gay man named Mitchell Gold to start a national campaign to educate people about the way the Bible has been used to support bigotry throughout history.

Although many churches are participating in Gold's campaign, some black preachers see it as an unfair attempt to equalize the sufferings of blacks and gays. Consider this comment by the Reverend Keith Ratliff of the Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa, where the campaign kicked off:

Even though there have been hate crimes against homosexuals, which is wrong, and discrimination against homosexuals, which is wrong, in my opinion the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement are not parallel.

Gays aren't denied the right to vote. Gays were not considered to be three-fifths of a person. Gays did not suffer through Jim Crow, separate restrooms and water fountains, sitting in the back of the bus and segregated schools. Gays were not enslaved for more than 200 years in America, lynched and bombed by the thousands, like the black people were.

Reverend Ratliff apparently feels that the push for gay equality somehow takes away from the monumental struggle and achievements of the black civil rights movement, but nothing could be further from the truth-or further from the soul of the civil rights movement. It was Dr. King who said, "Injustice anywhere threatens the cause of justice everywhere."

In my opinion, Rev. Ratliff would be better off if he stopped worrying about who's suffered more-is that a contest anyone wants to win?-and concentrated instead on the fact that the same warped idea of equal protection is being used against both people of color and queers. This warping began almost as soon as the Fourteenth Amendment became law, when railroad robber barons were successful in using it to argue that corporations are legal persons, who therefore deserve all the constitutional rights belonging to living, breathing human beings-a ruling that's helped make corporations first among equals for the past century and a half.

Because of that upside-down ruling, the amendment became a vehicle for protecting entrenched privilege rather than fulfilling its original intent of remedying injustice, and it's still happening.

Conservatives on the Rehnquist Court used equal protection, of all things, to argue that counting votes in Florida in 2000 damaged George W. Bush's interests. As for the interests of the thousands upon thousands of voters, many of them minorities, whose votes were tossed out like garbage, the Court said there is no constitutional mention of the individual vote. That's just a custom.

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Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She can be reached at
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