ONE CAUSE THAT IS DEFINITELY SUCCEEDING
In the last two weeks, the readers of this blog have been “treated” to nothing but talk about the Middle East peace process. Could there possibly be a more compelling cause? And yet, could there possibly be a more painful one? The more involved I’ve become in Israel-Palestinian issues, the more I’ve been wanting to tear my hair out. So many people are steeped in blame, mistrust and outright paranoia – and those are the non-violent ones! – that even the genius of Barack Obama isn’t likely to convert the “Holy Land” from the war zone it has been for decades. And those of us who struggle at the grass roots level are constantly wondering if we’ll EVER see results from our efforts.
But do not despair, my fellow progressives. Every now and then, we adopt causes that seem quixotic at first, and then actually come to be successful. Lost in all the Obama hoopla this week were additional positive developments in a just such a cause. I have in mind the right of two consenting adults to get married, regardless of their sexual preferences.
Earlier in the week, New Hampshire became the sixth U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. That leaves Rhode Island as the only state in New England where the legislators are willing to deprive certain people of the right to fall in love and have that love consecrated with the bond of marriage. I could lament Rhode Island’s backwardness. I could lament the fact that 44 other states, plus the District of Columbia, have failed to see the light. But instead, I am rejoicing. I am rejoicing in the decisions by New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts and Iowa to stand on the side of love. And I’m rejoicing this week’s announcement by none other than Dick Cheney that he, too, supports gay marriage. He had suggested that possibility years before, but not in the clearest of terms. This time, he said it unmistakably: states should have the right to allow gay people to marry. If you want his exact words, here they are:
“I think that freedom means freedom for everyone. As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish. Any kind of arrangement they wish. The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute to protect this, I don't support. I do believe that the historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. It has always been a state issue and I think that is the way it ought to be handled, on a state-by-state basis. ... But I don't have any problem with that. People ought to get a shot at that."
So now, every debate on gay marriage should begin with the words, “Even Dick…” As right wing as that man is, EVEN DICK appreciates that it’s high time for Americans to treat gay people with dignity. If marriage is the holiest institution conceived by the human mind, then denying any group the right to partake in that institution simply because of the gender of their lovers is impossible to justify. You would have to suffer either from bigotry or tunnel-vision. Come to think of it, though, that probably describes most people, which is why we still have 44 states left to go before our nation will have officially entered the new millennium when it comes to gay rights.
Is this glass half full? Or 88% empty? To me, the answer is obvious. All I have to do is reflect on my friends from Chicago who are now woman and wife. No, Illinois has never legalized gay marriage, but then again, they didn’t have to get married in Illinois, did they? Instead, they tied the knot in California where (a) it was legal and (b) you could actually find something in nature worth looking at. Who is to say they are worse off for having to make the trip? Now, as you surely know, California has since changed its laws to preclude gay people from getting married, but those gay people who were married under the old law get to stay married. And as for those who want to get married now … they have six other states to choose from, some of which are quite beautiful. So it’s all good, right?
More to the point, is there any question where the trend is headed? The only reason why the California law was rescinded was that it was legalized by judges, but overturned by a majority vote. Gradually, more and more states are voting in their legislatures to permit gay marriage. Once that happens, you can better believe that the law won’t change. “EVEN DICK” supports this progressive measure. So how can anyone oppose it without sounding like a Neanderthal? It won’t be long, in my opinion, before gay marriage will be accepted throughout the mainstream, and the opposition will be confined to those elements of our society who deeply detest the separation of church and state. There are plenty of those people, to be sure, but a majority? I don’t think so.
I feel badly for gay people who have little money and who can’t afford to travel to a distant state in order to take advantage of a fundamental human right. But I am confident that, before long, every gay couple will be able to marry without having to go very far. For those of you who would point to the Midwest, I would remind you about Iowa. And perhaps Colorado will soon enough join the party. For those who would point to the Bible Belt, I have visions of my own state of Maryland providing the safe haven of choice. If the ACC basketball players can travel up I-95 from Atlanta or Chapel Hill, why can’t a couple of men drive up that same road and marry overlooking the Chesapeake Bay? Or the Appalachian Mountains? They can’t do that yet, but I’m confident that it won’t be long. If EVEN DICK understands that “people ought to get a shot at that,” a state as progressive as Maryland will soon come around.
So, cynics, can we actually celebrate that this battle is being won? Can we actually take a deep breath and smile at what has transpired? Frankly, yes. Of course there’s plenty of work to do to ratchet the magic number from 6 to 50, but it ought to be fun work. And there are three reasons why I make that statement. First, the ultimate result here is inevitable. Someday, even Utah will allow gay marriage. Second, most gay people are already able to get married, and with each passing year, that will become an easier and cheaper proposition. Finally, lest anyone become frustrated that this movement has to take place gradually on a state-by-state basis rather than instantly as a result of a Supreme Court decision, let me remind you that each of these state battles functions as a necessary round of consciousness raising. The more people address these issues in their local areas, the more they will come to accept gays as normal people who have the same rights as anyone else.
When I went to high school back in the 1970s a few miles north of Washington, D.C., gay people were ridiculed as freaks by their fellow classmates. Now, in that same area, gays teenagers are treated with acceptance. I’m confident that when my daughters’ generation grows up, they’ll look back at our current debates about homosexual rights the same way that we look at the civil rights debates of the 50s and 60s: as a historical relic. Note, though, that one difference between the two movements was that the homosexual lobby hasn’t had the great inspirational leaders that the civil rights movement had. Instead, gays have come to enjoy their rights because of very localized, grass roots efforts, and because of the greater appreciation for equality ushered in by the civil rights and feminist movements. The irony that gay marriage is an issue where Dick Cheney has positioned himself to the left of Barack Obama hasn’t been lost on anyone. But the fact is that we don’t need Barack to help us legalize gay marriage, and he knows that. Besides, once he gets re-elected and isn’t so worried about appealing to right wingers, Barack may indeed announce that he has mind-melded with Dick on this issue. Surely, in his heart of hearts, Barack supports this cause. I’d bet the ranch on that one.
So, my friends, the next time you contemplate getting involved in some grass roots issue and wondering if grass roots politics isn’t just a waste of time, just consider the matter of gay marriage. And then ask yourself, if it could work in that arena, why not in another? Why not with regards to the most intractable problem of all? If a man can kiss his groom in Montpelier, and a woman can kiss her bride in Des Moines, why can’t we help two Semites live peacefully – but separately -- in Tel Aviv and Hebron? Ultimately, the battle involves the same thing: replacing hatred and fear with love and hope. It can be done.