All We Are Saying Is Give Me a Sandwich

A clarification on what it means to make a statement.

FightrBST
In my rant about the inanity surrounding Chick-fil-a’s anti-gay rights stance, I didn’t make it very clear what I meant by saying “Going to Chick-fil-a isn’t making a statement.” Instead of editing that post, I’d rather take more room here to explain exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve seen a quite a few descriptions calling it “activism” when people headed to local Chick-fil-a restaurants on Huckabee’s CFA Appreciation Day. I’ve seen people calling it “making a statement.”

OldtimeyracistsI’ve seen lots of images like this one, comparing the people going to Chick-fil-a to the people who protested integration during the Civil Rights Movement, or the people trying to stop the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws to fight interracial marriages.

While perfectly well-intentioned, these images are doing a disservice to all the dumbfuck 1950s and 60s racists who turned out to protest. Because at least they were going somewhere they didn’t already want to be.

Taking a stand, fighting for what you believe in, and even making a statement requires at least a minimum of personal risk or sacrifice. You’re putting your personal safety at risk, you’re putting your money behind a cause, you’re taking the time to explain your position, or you’re putting yourself at risk of public disapproval for taking an unpopular position.

Having a delicious chicken sandwich for lunch does none of those things.

At least in the United States, we’ve almost completely lost the idea of what true activism actually is. The internet’s made it increasingly easier to “take a stand” without actually doing anything, apart from sending a link on Twitter (and now we can even just hit “Retweet”), or taking an image, writing something on it in Impact, and putting it up on Facebook. Even when people try to do a well-intentioned old-school protest like Occupy Wall Street, the message is all muddled, and it just opens itself up for mockery as much as any Love-In. Even when the cops come in with riot shields and people actually get hurt, it turns the message of income disparity into a message about the police state.

And I already said that anti-gay rights activists have grossly misrepresented themselves to the media. Instead of being ethical and accurately reporting on the situation, the media has simply transcribed their claims, dutifully used all the right-wing NewSpeak terminology like “defense of traditional marriage,” and presented it as a “controversy” or a “difference of opinion.” Whenever one of these bigots claims that his traditional values are under attack, or his religious beliefs are under attack, the media never questions it, and never points out the basic truth that they are the ones imposing their beliefs on a minority.

Once again: people fighting against marriage equality lose nothing, the minority of homosexuals lose everything.

What Huckabee has done is combine slacktivism with the already absurd oppressors-whining-that-they’re-being-oppressed hypocrisy of the fight against gay rights, into one elegantly meaningless day of eating fast food while pretending it’s some kind of statement.

It’s not even like they’re settling for Jack In The Box or anything.

So all the people interviewed at Chick-fil-a restaurants on August 1st: hope you enjoyed your lunch, you dumb fucks! Unlike that Yahoo! reporter, don’t expect me to give even the most infinitesimal shred of validity to your opinions, since you’ve done absolutely nothing to justify or defend those opinions.

(That goes almost as well for the gay couples pledging to show up at the restaurants for a “kiss-in” for anything other than a mockery of how absurd the whole thing is in the first place).

And I will say this, for all the “good for Chick-fil-a now I don’t gotta worry ’bout no fags given’ me AIDS sandwiches!!” morons, and the woman quoted as saying “We believe that scripturally, in the Bible, the Lord states that marriage is between a man and a woman. And marriage between two women together, two men together is detestable to him” in that Yahoo! article: yes, you are willfully ignorant bigots violating the very notion of religion and community, and you will know an eternity of torment as your tainted, corrupted soul will be forever barred from union with the purity of God’s light. But at least you’re taking the slightest, most inconsequential shred of a risk by saying something that’s not politically correct.

But this guy, on the other hand:

For those like John Mohler, 50, of Thornton, Colo., eating at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday was about defending free speech. Mohler said he doesn’t share Cathy’s belief–only his rights to air them.

“I’m not sure I agree with his position on gay marriage,” said Mohler, who drove to Englewood from downtown Denver on his lunch break. “But I applaud the owner for speaking his mind, and that’s why I’m here.”

Congratulations, sir! You are officially the Biggest Pussy In The United States. Not only are you “defending free speech” by going to a fast food restaurant on your lunch break, and not only are you giving money to organizations with a proven record of introducing anti-gay rights referendums in states all across the country specifically designed to limit the freedoms of strangers. You don’t even have the stones to admit that that’s what you’re doing.

If activism is so easy, then I’m going to make a statement of my own. Let’s see, I really like that Moose Tracks Ice Cream… oh, snap! Right here on the box, it says the milk comes from cows not treated with rBST! So yeah, I’m making a stand against bovine growth hormones! Take that, corporate farming fat cats! Don’t you try to suppress my freedom of speech! (Damn, how do they make these little peanut butter cups taste so good?)

As our economy falters and our long-standing industries fail; as we’re overtaken by other countries in education, public safety, quality of life, and scientific development; there is one thing that the United States of America has historically been excellent at doing, from the founding of the colonies through the turn of the 21st Century: using power and determination to actively suppress the rights of a minority.

And now you lazy fucks are even ruining that.

Critical Thinking Appreciation Day

I’d like to declare August 3rd as a day for everyone to show their support for not acting like a damn moron.

So what happened was this: Chick-fil-a COO Dan Cathy finally ended years of gossip and speculation on LGBT blogs by publicly coming out as being opposed to marriage equality. In response, arrogant, attention-whoring douchebag and amateur Fred Flintstone impersonator Mike Huckabee saw a perfect opportunity to pretend to be relevant to the GOP, and he announced a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day on August 1st. It’d be the perfect opportunity for folks to visit a local restaurant and show their support for peanut oil and government imposition on the personal lives of strangers.

And then everybody else in the country responded by becoming a total idiot and missing the point entirely.

It’s bad enough that Huckabee and his pals have managed to turn up the volume on the usual background noise of dumb-assed bigotry. “Wait I thought it was okay for us to say faggot out loud again as long as we did it at the Chick-fil-a!” It’s bad enough that they’ve handed out new masks to people so they can try and disguise their bigotry as defense of free speech or religious freedom or free-market capitalism.

But stupid people are always going to be stupid. What’s the worst is seeing people who should know better taking a reasonable argument and then carrying it out to some ridiculous extreme. I keep seeing reactions from people — bloggers, Facebook commenters, stand-up routines, The Daily Show — that start out showing a real insight into what’s going on, then suddenly take a wild left turn into a boneheaded conclusion. For instance, This impassioned piece by the editor of The Advocate does a great job of explaining how it’s not just a difference of opinion and it’s not just the silly politicization of fast food. But then concludes by saying that’s why it’s okay for Rahm Emmanuel and Thomas Menino to pledge to block the opening of Chick-fil-a franchises in their cities. What?! No!

This isn’t about freedom of speech.
Most of the coverage plays Cathy’s “guilty as charged” quote and then cuts directly to people lining up in front of a restaurant. His statement isn’t the whole story, though. It’s his statement combined with documented proof that Chick-fil-a has donated millions of dollars to anti-gay rights groups, through the WinShape Foundation, its charitable arm.

I’ve never given a second thought to what the Cathy family thinks whenever I’ve eaten at one of their restaurants. And when one of them makes a statement against marriage equality, the way to handle that is to respond in kind: say he’s wrong, and if you feel like it, explain how and why he’s wrong. That’s how the freedom of speech thing works; he can say what he wants, and we can say he’s a dumb-ass.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to give a guy money that he’s going to turn around and use against me. It really doesn’t get simpler than that.

This isn’t about religious intolerance.
Allegations have been leveled against Chick-fil-a for years, but I’ve held out for as long as possible, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Yeah, part of that is because I like the food. But most of it’s because I absolutely despise the kind of simple-minded guilt-by-association that was behind most of these complaints.

I’d see a liberal-baiting headline that promised they’d finally found the smoking gun proving the company was anti-gay rights. I’d dutifully follow each one, read the article, and it was always, always the same. There’d be a long preamble about how the Cathy family’s outspokenly religious, the family demands the restaurant’s closed on Sundays, and the company has a charitable division. That would be followed by tenuous links to anti-gay groups, or allegations of discrimination that were actually perfectly justifiable, above-board behavior. It was never a smoking gun; it always came across as nothing more than religious intolerance. “If they’re evangelical Christian, then of course they must be anti-gay.”

It’s lazy, bullshit thinking, and it’s ended up doing more harm than good. Now people are just shouting “religious persecution,” trying to reduce it to nothing more than liberals vs. conservatives, Christians vs. marriage equality. Ignoring the fact that plenty of Christians are gay, plenty of the supporters of marriage quality are Christian, and the people who are trying to disguise their bigotry as religious beliefs are corrupting my religion.

What Cathy’s “guilty as charged” statement did was finally make it clear exactly what their motivation was. It wasn’t some clerical oversight or a case giving to an organization without appreciating the full context of what it does. They willfully and intentionally give millions of dollars to anti-gay groups, for the purpose of campaigning against the rights of gay people.

This isn’t a silly case of politicizing a fast food chain.
Obviously, when opportunistic jack-asses like Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin come up with these stunts and tweet pictures of themselves at a Chick-fil-a, that’s exactly what it is. But real people — those of us not desperately clinging to relevance — don’t have to be making a political statement whenever we buy or don’t buy a sandwich.

Whichever Daily Show writer came up with the bit with Jessica Williams and Wyatt Cenac as a liberal and a conservative flummoxed over what products they could buy: I’m sure you were convinced that this was biting satire, but it was actually just a case of colossally missing the point.

It’s not some complex issue that requires us to research the political stance of companies, or get reports on business practices, or investigate the personal beliefs of the owners. Paul F. Tompkins did a good job of debunking that idea. Dan Cathy’s made it easy for us: now we know all where he stands, where his company’s money is going, and why it’s going there. And I wasted years of my life believing I could “fix” myself and not be gay anymore, and I don’t want anybody else to have to go through that bullshit, so I’m not giving any of my money to Exodus International. Pretty simple.

What disappoints me is that until recently, I thought this was a perfect example of how things should work. I’d thought that here was a company whose owners had views that were likely diametrically opposed to mine, but that didn’t matter when we were doing business. Peaceful coexistence. Proof of the donations plus an admission of motivation behind the donations ruined that.

Boycotting Chick-fil-a isn’t suppressing anyone’s rights.
But supporting them is, however indirectly.

A similar case came up a few years ago, when a company released a popular video game made in collaboration with virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card. And just as now, people said it was silly to protest. People like comic book author Peter David insisted that boycotting the game was creating some kind of “chilling effect” where artists would be afraid to speak their mind about their own personal beliefs for fear of its affecting their financial livelihood.

It raises a question: are we obligated to separate the products we buy from the beliefs of the people who make them? Is it appropriate for us to be boycotting a company based on the company’s mission statement?

Luckily, we don’t have to mull over that question for very long, because the answer is fucking obvious: Yes, it is appropriate. Just because we’re American doesn’t mean we’re obligated to buy everything. I’ve refused to buy stuff from a store just because I don’t like the typography on its sign. I sure as hell don’t have any problem refusing to buy stuff from a store that campaigns against my rights. I wouldn’t have any problem boycotting Card based solely on what an asshole he is; the fact that he also contributes to anti-gay rights organizations just makes it a no-brainer.

If a product is good enough, the creators will do just fine. That’s what we’re seeing with Chick-fil-a, where people tie themselves into knots trying to come up with a justification for going to the restaurant even while they claim they’re in support of marriage equality. The food is indeed really good.

Going to Chick-fil-a isn’t making a statement.
While the media insists on framing this as a “difference of opinion” or a controversial political issue, the fact is that the issue of marriage equality has always been nothing but the case of a majority suppressing the rights of a minority. We can’t agree to disagree if they walk away from the “disagreement” completely unaffected and I walk away with my state constitution modified to make me a second-class citizen.

But apparently that was still too much of an effort for dumb fucks like Huckabee. How can I campaign for the suppression of a minority and not just be completely unaffected, but actually come out ahead? I know! I can say that I’m defending traditional marriage and the freedom of speech and get some chicken nuggets out of the deal!

The people continuing to eat there are doing so because the food’s good. If you’re not bigoted against homosexuals and you still want to eat there, at least acknowledge that it’s because you like the food. Don’t say that it’s because of the good the company does, like paying for employee’s education or contributing to non-bigoted charities. Don’t say that it’s to show support for the freedom of speech. And for the love of Pete, don’t try any of that “bigotry offset” nonsense like making an equal donation to GLAAD or some other pro-LGBT group every time you buy something from CFA. You’re still funding groups that campaign against marriage equality. And in case you haven’t noticed from state after state writing anti-gay discrimination into its constitution over the past few years, they’re winning against groups like GLAAD.

(Note that that’s not the same as donating to GLAAD et al instead of going to the restaurant. That’s all good).

Elected officials vowing to block Chick-fil-a from opening in their cities is just bullshit political grandstanding.
It fails the most basic logic test: if you cheer when Rahm Emmanuel pledges to block Chick-fil-a in Chicago, or Thomas Menino vows to block it in Boston, then you’re saying you’d have no problem if Chris Christie pledged to keep JC Penney, Nabisco, Apple, or any other company that’s spoken out in support of marriage equality, out of New Jersey. Congratulations!

It also fails the pragmatic test: if you block Chick-fil-a, you would be eliminating whatever good the company does. If you wanted to actually accomplish something, you’d work to keep the directly anti-gay groups out of your city: Exodus International, Family Research Council, and so on. And then you’re back at the first problem: anybody else would be able to pledge to keep GLAAD and the like out of the city.

What they’re doing is wrong, but it’s not illegal. They don’t discriminate in employment or in service. The organizations they give money to are working within the law. It’s not the place of elected officials to be blocking companies just because they don’t like them; that’s the job of consumers.

Finally, Learn what the words “intolerance” and “bigotry” mean.
I haven’t seen anyone but idiots dragging out the “you liberals are intolerant of anyone who disagrees with you” crap, but holy shit we have got to do something to put a stop to it.

We’ve got to find whoever it was that started that whole talking point, and unleash a torrent of abuse upon his or her house for the evils they unleashed onto the world. We had as a society just gotten the people saying “you’re suppressing my freedom of speech!” under control, and we seemed to have educated most of the internet on what at least that part of the 1st Amendment actually means. Now, though, everywhere you turn there’s another ignorant blowhard trotting out the same nonsense.

Shut up shut up shut up! You don’t get to attack people and then complain that you’re being attacked! No one is required to be tolerant of intolerance; it’s not being open-minded or accepting of difference of opinion to stay neutral when one group is oppressing the rights of another. It’s wrong, and it’s ethically wrong for the media to present it as a debate with rational arguments on each side.

And homophobes are not a protected class. It’s not bigotry to tell them that their beliefs are toxic and they should shut the hell up. If someone’s making assumptions about you because you’re from the South, or you’re straight, or even if you’re Mormon or evangelical Christian; that’s prejudice. If someone’s telling you that you’re acting like a homophobe or spreading bullshit about homosexuals, and you should just shut the fuck up; that’s just common sense.

Survival of the Meekest

After Obama’s statement about same-sex marriage, I’m going back into the closet to bring out my wet blanket. You say “landmark moment in the history of gay rights,” I say “damage control.”

SpineYou could say that my reaction to Barack Obama’s interview with Robin Roberts on the topic of same-sex marriage is “evolving.”

What you have to understand is that this has been an ongoing process for me. I had been in the middle of writing a few hundred words trying to articulate my outrage over the White House’s deplorable behavior over the past few days. The Vice President of the United States had made a simple, genuine, and already sufficiently qualified statement that gay people should be able to marry the person they love. And the Obama camp went into overdrive spin control, treating that sincere statement as a gaffe. Oh, that crazy Joe, is the insultingly vapid storyline they chose to perpetuate about an accomplished senator, You never know what he’s going to say next, always going off-script with his wacky ideas about human dignity! They did everything they could to try and roll it back to the same non-position they’ve had for the past few years, all but closing their eyes tightly and wishing the question away.

It was the perfect example of how disillusioned I’ve gotten with the Obama administration and the Democratic party in general, who seem not just willing but eager to capitulate with an increasingly unhinged opposition.

None of us who voted for Obama (and plan to vote for him again, just to be clear) can claim that it’s a case of bait-and-switch. He made the idea of unity and cooperation the recurring theme of his campaign. But it’s a perfect example of something that sounds great in theory but turns out horrible in practice. It’s not rational to entertain an irrational opinion. It’s not equitable to cater to the fringe’s desire to discriminate against other people. If a man says, “I believe we should start dismantling the past 50 years of progress in women’s rights,” it’s not a good thing to respond, “Hang on everybody, calm down, let’s hear what he has to say.”

But in the middle of writing, I heard that the President had made a historic announcement. It was a landmark moment in the history of gay rights. People were saying that they were moved to tears. I read snippets before I could see the actual transcript, and saw mention of his daughters and their friends with same-sex parents. I’d expected an epiphany, an eloquent and sincere statement about the equality of all Americans.

What I saw was a lengthy reminder of how they totally just repealed of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, followed by this:

At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that– for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that– I think same-sex couples should be able to get married. Now– I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. There’s a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized.

And what you’re seeing is, I think, states working through this issue– in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that’s a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.

Now, I’m most definitely not an expert on Constitutional Law or history, but wasn’t Loving v. Virginia, historically, a federal issue, specifically about what’s recognized as a marriage? (Almost ten years between the instigating incident and a Supreme Court decision. Is that really what Obama wants to see repeated?)

I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Robin Roberts now, for having the backbone to break with the past decade of journalistic tradition by actually challenging a statement made by her interview subject, instead of letting it stand:

ROBIN ROBERTS: Well, Mr. President, it’s– it’s not being worked out on the state level. We saw that Tuesday in North Carolina, the 30th state to announce its ban on gay marriage.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well– well– well, what I’m saying is is that different states are coming to different conclusions. But this debate is taking place– at a local level. And I think the whole country is evolving and changing. And– you know, one of the things that I’d like to see is– that a conversation continue in a respectful way.

I think it’s important to recognize that– folks– who– feel very strongly that marriage should be defined narrowly as– between a man and a woman– many of them are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective. They’re coming at it because they care about families. And– they– they have a different understanding, in terms of– you know, what the word “marriage” should mean. And I– a bunch of ’em are friends of mine– you know, pastors and– you know, people who– I deeply respect.

And as hard as I try, I absolutely cannot be convinced that a person’s basic right to equality is a topic on which reasonable people can disagree. Even people you respect can have opinions that are simply wrong.

I’ve been trying to explain the objection to calling it a “state’s rights” issue for years, but I couldn’t possibly do a better job of it than Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ did in less than five minutes:

“It’s ridiculous and offensive that we’re still having this debate.”

I’ve seen people claim that Obama’s statement is huge, no matter what the context was for his making it, because it’s the first time the active President of the United States has publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage. “Look how far we’ve come.” Well, this morning, I turned on one of the burners on my stove, and it lit. I didn’t marvel at how amazing an accomplishment it is that we’ve mastered fire. Later, I got in my car and started it up, and I wasn’t moved to tears at the wonder of the internal combustion engine. After that, I went into a store and while talking with the clerk, I mentioned having a boyfriend. And I didn’t drop to my knees and praise the heavens that nobody ejected me from the store, called me a faggot and started beating me up, or had me arrested for sodomy.

We’re human beings. We’re supposed to be advancing as a society because that’s pretty much our thing. The Stonewall riots were 43 years ago, two years before I was born. It took 21 years for the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness, and they did it 39 years ago. Harvey Milk took office 35 years ago and was assassinated 34 years ago. For more than my entire lifetime, people have been saying “this is bullshit,” and I’m not a young man. When anyone points out that this is a “process,” and uses the decades-long Civil Rights movement or the decades-long-and-still-ongoing Women’s Rights movement as examples, that’s not reassuring. It’s horrifying. It suggests that we’re incapable of learning from past experience. That we need to go through decades of violence and deliberation every time, before people will be able to differentiate right from wrong.

“Hooray! A stranger in Washington has said that after three and a half years sending gay people to fight for their country and having gay people work for him, he no longer believes that their relationships are inferior!” seems to me like a depressingly low bar to set for celebration.

I’ve seen people claim that Obama’s statement was bold and politically risky (including an implication from Obama himself). I don’t believe it was. First, because so many people already believed that he’d taken a stand in favor of gay rights from the start. As the New York Times Caucus blog was live-reporting reactions to the statement, and they quoted several respondents who were surprised that Obama speaking in favor of same-sex marriage was a new thing. I can’t figure out how to link to individual updates on that blog, but I don’t need to: I’ve been seeing it for years. For whatever reason, people have been talking up Obama as a champion of gay rights ever since he was elected.

The second reason I don’t see it as significantly risky is that the number of people who regard same-sex marriage as the defining issue of a Presidential campaign is vanishingly small. I’m as good an example of that as anyone: same-sex marriage is the only political issue I’ve written about at length. It’s an issue that could affect me directly. It’s an issue that could very well save lives, as more people realize they don’t have to commit suicide out of loneliness or because society treats them as inferior. And most significantly, it’s an issue to which there is absolutely no valid rational objection. And yet, in 2008 I voted for a candidate who explicitly said that he was against same-sex marriage.

Of course there’s no way I’d ever vote for Rick Santorum, and his ridiculously offensive statements on the topic are a big part of that. But if Mitt Romney flip-flopped (as if that were possible) and suddenly announced that he was in favor of it, there’s still no way in Hell I’d vote for him, either. And based on everything I’ve read about it, that’s pretty common: few of the people in support of it would change their vote based on that one issue, and few of the people against it were likely to vote for Obama anyway.

There’s been a good bit of comment, including from Roberts in the ABC interview, about how the black and latino population has traditionally been opposed to same-sex marriage and gay rights in general. I say as long as you’re reducing human beings to demographics, why not just come right out and say it: Obama’s no less black now than he was before he made the announcement. If the story you’re trying to tell is that Obama’s election was ensured by black and latino voters, then you’re saying that race was the most important factor for them. Not marriage equality. And if Obama really is courting pastors of predominantly black churches to influence his electorate, he’s given them ample material to frame the issue, since he’s qualified his statements over and over again, and hasn’t changed his actual practical position one bit.

Obama’s policies on gay rights have been at best an example of “Not My Problem.” Make no mistake: the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was absolutely, unquestionably a great thing. As he said in the interview, it’s unconscionable to expect men and women to sacrifice everything for their country while forcing them to hide or disguise their sexual orientation. It also has to be said, though, that it was a move that was long overdue, and that it already had the support of 70% of people in the service.

Saying that it’s not politically risky doesn’t automatically mean that it was politically advantageous. It’s damage control. It’d become necessary for the Obama campaign to claim that he’d taken a firm stand on the issue, and to claim that it was consistent with what he’d been doing throughout his administration. Otherwise, they’d lose their opportunity to take advantage of the “flip-flop” perception of Romney. (Notice that Obama does exactly that in his ABC interview).

The Obama administration has also been getting praise for the decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. The decision is, of course, a good thing. The praise isn’t. It strikes me as if I took credit for the Grand Canyon because the last time I was in Nevada, I did nothing to stop the Colorado River.

This post on the “Poliglot” blog of MetroWeekly.com says that I’m wrong, and it chastises other blogs for dismissing Obama’s statement as ineffectual. It attempts to explain that leaving the issue to the states to decide isn’t half-assed capitulation, but is actually part of a three-pronged master plan to ensure equality for everyone:

Obama’s position now is three-fold: (1) he personally supports same-sex marriage; (2) he believes as a policy matter that state, and not federal, law should define marriages, as it always has been in this country; and (3) he believes that there are federal constitutional limitations on those state decisions.

The writer fails to mention that (4) He understands that by the time any of these state decisions are challenged by a suit at the state level, appealed, raised to the federal level, appealed, stayed, and then finally advance to the position where those supposed federal constitutional limitations actually take effect, he’ll already have finished his second term, and it will no longer have to be his problem. Remember that Proposition 8 was voted into effect four years ago along with Obama, and it’s still nowhere near making it to the Supreme Court. Maybe if we wait long enough, all the gay people will just naturally die off, and it won’t be an issue anymore!

The best part of that post is the first comment (at the time I’m writing this), from a writer named Darren Hutchinson. “Anyone with a knowledge of US history, however, should know how harmful and dangerous the words ‘states’ rights’ are to civil rights.” Leaving the equality of millions of Americans to the states to decide individually is simply not a “moderate” position. It’s time we started calling it what it is: inaction.

So that’s why, when I say I’m in favor of marriage equality, I’m not going to say “I Stand With Obama.” (And I’m going to continue to be annoyed at those who do). I don’t see how anyone living in California, North Carolina, or any of the other 30 states that have redefined marriage to discriminate against homosexuals, can say that leaving the rights of a minority up to the states to decide is a strong, positive decision.

But while Obama was condescendingly scolding Biden for expressing a genuine sentiment, he made one thing absolutely clear: it’s a personal decision. He doesn’t want to see it politicized, or exploited, and he would’ve preferred to do it “without there being a lot of notice to anybody.”

Of course, his take is better than the alternative. That should go without saying. But here’s the thing: I don’t give a rat’s ass what Romney thinks. I actually care what Obama thinks. Not to decide my vote; of course I’m going to vote for Obama again, just like I did in 2008. And once again it’s not going to matter, since my state has basically already guaranteed all of its electoral votes to the Democratic candidate. My vote is almost completely symbolic, which is convenient because Obama’s campaign was almost completely symbolic. It got us excited about the idea that we’re actually living in a meritocracy — the smartest and most well-spoken candidate could rise above any trivialities like his race, or his unusual name, and become President of the United States simply on the strength of his ideas.

You could say that it’s hypocritical of me to judge Obama for taking so long to come around, when it took me at least 20 years to get comfortable with it. But the difference there is that Obama is a lot smarter than me. That’s why I voted for him. And it just seems like he should’ve known better all along.

So forgetting all the political motivation, campaign-year spin, backpedalling, exploitation, and speculation of what the practical effects will be, what did he actually say?

But– I think it’s important for me– to say to [opponents of same-sex marriage] that as much as I respect ’em, as much as I understand where they’re coming from– when I meet gay and lesbian couples, when I meet same-sex couples, and I see how caring they are, how much love they have in their hearts, how they’re taking care of their kids. When I hear from them the pain they feel that somehow they are still considered– less than full citizens when it comes to their legal rights– then for me, I think it just has tipped the scales in that direction.
[…]
They’re respectful of religious liberty, that– you know, churches and other faith institutions– are still gonna be able to make determinations about what their sacraments are– what they recognize. But from the perspective of the law and perspective of the state– I think it’s important to say that in this country we’ve always been about fairness. And treating everybody as equals. Or at least that’s been our aspiration.
[…]
It would have been hard for me, knowing– all the friends and family that are gays or lesbians, that for me to say to them, you know, “I voted to oppose you having the same kind of rights and responsibilities that I have.”

And you’d be a fool to argue with any of that.

Biden’s comments seemed genuine to me, and he actually gave credit to Will & Grace for educating Americans on what gay people are really like. I’m not aware of anyone crediting minstrel shows and Amos & Andy for sparking the Civil Rights movement; I’m guessing Biden didn’t watch enough Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to recognize that as a more accurate, positive, portrayal.

But that’s what it eventually comes down to: if I can respect Biden’s statement as genuine even knowing that something so awful helped motivate it, why shouldn’t I be able to ignore political spin and motivation and just accept Obama’s statement as a useful and valid sentiment, delivered to a huge audience, with the weight of the Presidency of the United States? A symbolic message that we’re all equal, from a presidency that derives so much of its strength from symbolism.

If it actually motivates people to evolve enough of a backbone to do something about it, all the better.

Responsibility

An open letter to Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein, supporter and co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP bill and supporters of SOPA

Here’s a copy of the messages I just left on Senators Boxer and Feinstein’s web page forms, making sure to stay under their 5000-character limit. I look forward to receiving a form letter to the effect of “We are very interested in your opinion but you see it’s like this” any day now.

In the 15 years I’ve lived in the Bay Area, I’ve had the luxury of not having to be that informed about politics. Whenever an election comes up, I don’t need to research the candidates for the Senate or House; it’s always Pelosi, Boxer, and Feinstein across the board. And whenever I’ve been urged to write my senator or congress people on a hot-topic issue, I’ve never felt the need — my senators and representatives have pretty much always reflected my interests exactly.

That came to a crashing end with the NDAA. I ignored all the entreaties to write my representatives, because I believed my senators would never support a bill with such blatantly unconstitutional provisions. After learning that both of my senators voted Yea, I realized that I was going to have to actually become a responsible citizen again.

That’s why I’m asking you, as one of your constituents, to reverse your support of PROTECT IP and SOPA. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the workings of the internet can see that it does nothing to actually protect IP, because it does nothing to stop the most egregious pirates. It is a transparent attempt by media rights holders, frustrated that they’ve failed to do anything to stop piracy, to find someone — anyone — that they can sue. It should be clear that suing a content provider for the actions of one of its users would be as ludicrous as suing a department store whenever someone shoplifts a DVD.

In an environment where all of Washington is promoting “job creation,” it’s baffling to see a bill proposed that so clearly stifles start-ups and favors profitability (through lawsuits, not sales) of major corporations. While I appreciate the opportunity to be an informed citizen once again, I’d much prefer my representatives to vote on behalf of all their constituents, not just the most wealthy ones.

Choices

Getting all worked up thinking about years wasted arguing over the wrong thing.

Today I talked to a man who just celebrated his 25th anniversary with the same guy, and it just pissed me off. Not over the anniversary, of course, but over the fact that they’re not able to get legally married in their home state, and thousands of people are just fine with that. And over the fact that he used the word “partner” when “husband” is both appropriate and more natural. (But that may have been his choice; to each his own).

It didn’t seem to get him as angry as it got me — either he’s used to it after so many years, or else he realized that a barber shop isn’t the place to get angry even if you weren’t preaching to the choir.

Still, it got me thinking a lot about that phrase: “so many years.” How much time has been wasted arguing over something that’s simply, blatantly unfair? Every time someone — with the best intentions, usually — says that change will come in time, I just think of the dozens of photos I’ve seen of 60-to-80-year old couples coming out of courthouses finally able to get married, and I think about how many years they had to wait.

There’s a post on one of the Time magazine blogs today, pointing out Rick Perry’s comments about homosexuality in a book he published in 2008:

“Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink,” he wrote. “And, even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.”

In “On My Honor,” Perry also punted on the exact origins of homosexuality. He wrote that he is “no expert on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate,” but that gays should simply choose abstinence. Perry’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on whether he maintains this view.

It got referenced on the Washington Post‘s site, again calling out Perry for his comments in that book.

Both posts fault Perry’s campaign for keeping silent on the issue, not making a more public response to his comments. I think both are missing the point almost as much as Perry is: he’s already felt the need to clarify to the Family Research Council that his anti-gay rights agenda hasn’t been stringent enough. To one audience, he tries to frame it as an issue of state’s rights; to another, he says of course same sex marriage is wrong and that’s why we need a federal constitutional amendment.

I don’t know why the bald-faced hypocrisy of gay rights opponents always surprises me. They claim it’s an issue of federalism and then propose Constitutional amendments or federal policy like the DOMA to oppose it. They complain that gay rights activists are trying to “redefine” marriage, and they respond by instituting state laws or constitutional amendments to define marriage as being for heterosexuals only. Fuckwits like Rick Santorum claim that everyone knows what marriage is, and that’s right. Everyone including millions of homosexuals, who know what marriage is, and who want to be married some day.

So calling out Perry for remarks in a three-year-old book is missing the point; you don’t have to dig that hard. Of course he’s against gay rights: he’s a GOP presidential candidate passing himself off as a populist. It’s not even Bachmann’s glassy-eyed refusal to comment on her earlier homophobic writings. Perry’s said what he thinks, and it’s a direct, almost cartoonish, regurgitation of the boilerplate Republican agenda. Hell, it’s not at all far removed from Obama’s comments on gay rights, and he’s frequently, bafflingly, praised as if he were some kind of champion of equality.

But back to the statements that Time quoted: it’s the typical nature-vs-nurture question, and I can’t help but wonder how many years have been wasted arguing over whether being gay is a “choice.” I can remember reading comments like Perry’s from at least seven years ago: “Okay, so maybe people are born gay. But even if you are, you can still choose your behavior.” You can’t help being gay, but you don’t have to act gay. You can (and should) be abstinent. Or even more helpful, you can change, and no longer “indulge” in the “gay lifestyle.”

That’s what self-described conservatives (and most organized churches, come to think of it) are calling compassion now. Even though it’s been almost forty years since the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental illness, people can keep talking about it as if they were. And getting a pass on it, because they’re being politically correct by acknowledging it may be innate.

Here’s the thing, though: “Born this way” is total, absolute bullshit. Not in the sense that it’s false, but in the sense that it’s totally, absolutely irrelevant.

The issue isn’t whether it’s changeable, but whether it’s harmful. That and equality are the only relevant questions in any discussion about gay rights. Can someone choose to be abstinent? Sure, but first you have to explain why they should. Can a gay man or woman choose to marry an opposite-sex partner and have children? Yes, but you’re going to have to explain why that’s inherently better than marrying someone they’re actually attracted to and in love with.

So often, these people have tried to claim that same-sex couples have the responsibility to prove to everyone else that their relationship is healthy. That’s just plain un-American. It’s the responsibility of the people trying to write inequality into law to prove that the relationships they’re banning are unhealthy. (And they’ve got to do it without the aid of a book that can’t be used as the basis of United States law, because not everybody in the US follows the teachings of that book).

I have to wonder if the anti-gay groups have purposefully kept the issue of a genetic basis for homosexuality in the forefront of the discussion, because it’s dominated every discussion of gay rights, for years. And it’s been an effective obfuscation and stalling tactic. Keep people talking about whether it’s genetic or not, and you can make it seem like it’s a complicated, nuanced issue with multiple sides and a lot of room for debate. You don’t have to address the question of equality, and you don’t have to reveal the truth: that you’ve got no valid, rational, non-religious-based opposition.

Maybe I’m just being cynical, and the years of argument over nature-vs-nurture hasn’t just been a total waste of time. Maybe it’s not a tragedy that couples have died while waiting for other people to decide whether they were genetically predisposed to love each other. Maybe it was worthwhile to get people used to the idea that people don’t just arbitrarily decide to go gay for a weekend ’cause it sounds like fun. Even the homophobes these days have to acknowledge that homosexuality is innate so that they can claim that they’re not homophobic; it’s finally entrenched itself in politically correct speech. Maybe the couples who are actually affected by the bigots are spending their time just being couples instead of getting themselves worked up about what anybody else thinks.

But if it takes another forty years of people being treated unfairly while bigots keep insisting they’re not bigots, that would be a tragedy.

Chicken and Waffling

On Chick-fil-A and marriage equality

holy_cow.jpgOver a year ago I wrote a post about a videogame being sold under the name of virulent homophobe Orson Scott Card, and why I thought an informal boycott of the game was justified. I thought it raised some pretty interesting questions, and a couple of interesting responses in addition to the predictable BS drive-by comments. In particular: where are the lines drawn? What constitutes making a stand, and what’s just a petty attempt to punish people for having different beliefs from you?

Lately, there’s been something of a campaign against Chick-fil-a restaurants because of the restaurant’s ties to groups that campaign against same-sex marriage. It’s been a question for years, how closely the restaurant and/or its founders are associated with the National Organization of Marriage and Focus on the Family, if they’re associated at all. Most recently, the issue was a contribution to an event by anti-gay marriage group called the Pennsylvania Family Institute, an association that Chick-fil-A finally responded to with a cover-your-ass PR video which, unfortunately, didn’t say much of anything.

But it’s always been a case of guilt by association. Providing free food for an event by this group, members of the board also being members of this other group, that sort of thing. The blog posts always start out with righteous fury, and then fizzle out once the link turns out to be tenuous at best.

Now the blog Good As You is insisting there’s a clear link between the restaurant and anti-gay rights groups, and they have an e-mail exchange that will prove all of Chick-fil-A’s apologists have been wrong! A-ha! Finally, a smoking gun! Another blog, change.org, picked up the story with the headline Yes, Chick-fil-A Says, We Explicitly Do Not Like Same-Sex Couples.

Except they don’t say that.

The actual situation is this: the restaurant chain has a charitable arm called the WinShape Foundation. One focus of WinShape is WinShape Marriage, which sponsors retreats and “adventures” for “enrichment” of relationships. The writer of the blog (presumably) sent an e-mail to WinShape asking if its programs were open to homosexual couples. The answer was that they are not, because “WinShape Retreat defines marriage from the Biblical standard as being between one man and one woman.”

Granted, “The Charitable Arm of Chick-fil-A Admits It Does Not Admit Same-Sex Couples to Its Marriage Enrichment Retreats” isn’t quite as shocking a headline as “Chick-fil-A Says We Do Not Like Same-Sex Couples,” and it’d be less likely to get people clamoring to sign up for your facebook petition. But even on the internet, don’t we have some kind of obligation to accuracy?

I have little doubt that the Cathys (the family that founded and still runs Chick-fil-A) are in opposition to same-sex marriage. They’re publicly religious, the restaurant has been closed on Sunday since its founding, and thousands of religious people in Georgia still believe that Christianity and homosexuality are incompatible. It wouldn’t even surprise me to learn that they’ve made personal donations to NOM or other anti-gay rights groups, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they voted for the same-sex marriage ban in Georgia.

But isn’t that their right? When we campaign for marriage equality, aren’t we campaigning for the right to believe things that other people may find abhorrent? Isn’t the entire campaign based on the principle that we all deserve equal freedoms as long as we don’t infringe on the rights of other people? Isn’t the promise that individuals will be free to choose for themselves what to believe, but the government can’t make such a distinction? That churches will remain free to hold ceremonies only for couples who hold their beliefs, just as they are now?

I couldn’t get married in a synagogue, because I’m not Jewish. And I couldn’t get married in most southern Baptist churches, because I’m gay. I don’t see that as grounds for activism. It doesn’t infringe on my rights until they start actively campaigning to deny me the right to marry. Being closed to me is not the same thing as being against me. And the restaurants are still not closed to me.

WinShape’s e-mail response, and their policy, may be enough grounds for some people to stage a boycott of Chick-fil-A. And that, of course, is their right. But it’s definitely not enough for me. In the case of the video game, Card didn’t just say that he doesn’t like homosexuals — he actively campaigns against gay marriage and in support of homosexual “rehabilitation.” Ties between Chick-fil-A and anti-gay rights activist groups are still a lot more tenuous.

If Good As You can present a genuine link between Chick-fil-A’s revenue and a group that campaigns against same-sex marriage, then I’ll be glad to join in a boycott. Until then, I resent their implication that anybody who’s not outraged by their accusations is being in denial, or somehow complicit with marriage bans. And I resent their continued practice of guilt-by-association, which just gives more fodder to the “slippery slope” arguments. I’m tired of people giving bigots and homophobes the opportunity to go on the defensive — to institute bans on equal rights while insisting they’re the ones whose freedom is being threatened.

No doubt I’ll be accused of making an exception just because I’m an unabashed fan of Chick-fil-A’s food, but I’ll just point out that they’re still impossible to get here in the Bay Area.

Burying the lede

The Washington Post, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the inability to catch a break even when numbers are on your side, for once.

Today in The Washington Post‘s political blog, a report on The Pentagon’s survey of military personnel on the implications of rescinding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And the testimonials from some in the military paint a grim picture of pervasive apprehension:

Some expressed fears about contracting AIDS or getting leered at in the showers. Others worried that it would get in the way of critical bonding at barbecues and bar outings. Still others said it would be an affront to their religious beliefs and harm the military’s credibility.

Except…

Overall, the study showed that about 70 percent of active-duty and reserve forces saw little or no problem with ending the 17-year-old policy, which critics have said is discriminatory, harmful to troop readiness and at odds with the military’s emphasis on honesty. But in a 13-page section of the report, dozens of quotes reflected the attitudes of the remaining 30 percent.

(bolding mine) That’s three paragraphs in.

I’m not going to belittle the opinions or concerns of people in the service. And I definitely don’t want to suggest that 30% of any population should be ignored. That’s one of the most infuriating things about the same-sex marriage debate, where the numbers are closer, but opponents insist that a simple majority means ignoring the opinions of millions in support.

But when 70% of the respondents say they don’t see a problem, and you put the focus on catching a fatal disease or getting leered at in a shower, that’s kind of a sign of a deeper problem. Hang on, it’s not just an over-reaction. It’s a problem of who’s given a voice and how much weight is given to that voice. It reinforces the idea that a minority’s desires — and not just desires, but rights — are subject to the comfort level of everyone else.

The most ignorant opinions — and “ignorant” isn’t used here as a pejorative, but simply a lack of awareness or exposure — are given the most importance. We’ve seen it in cases of civil rights, we’ve seen it with the rise of the Tea Party and cries of socialism. The media treats the fringe as a majority, and reinforces the notion that in a democratic society, we’ve got to get the support of everyone before we can move forward. But on some issues, you’re never going to get the support of everyone. There will always be opposition, going based on ignorance, fear, or prejudice. How long do you emphasize the importance of that opposition, instead of just doing the right thing?

Democracy Inaction

I’m part of the problem. But so is San Francisco.

CNN just ran a story about an 83-year-old man who, on the way back from a hospital stay, asked the driver to stop at his polling place to let him cast his vote from a stretcher.

In other news, a local 39-year-old in San Francisco declined to vote because he had a cold and was feeling tired and achey.

Ultimately, my vote wouldn’t have made a dent in the San Francisco results. But of course, that’s not the point. It’s the principle of the thing. And as you no doubt heard several times on Tuesday, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

But while I can’t complain about the results of the election, I did do my research, so I can complain about that. And every time I read up on all the San Francisco propositions on the ballot, I can’t help but complain. It always makes me feel like the mother of an unruly child at a department store. “NO. NO. You… take that off your head! Right now! Who taught you to behave like this? NO.”

It’s not just that it all reads like petty squabbles between members of the board of supervisors. (And considering the history of squabbles between supervisors, it’s probably best for those to play out on the ballot instead of City Hall). It’s that it feels like they believe San Francisco has a reputation to protect, and by damn they’re going to perpetuate it. And if they’re this goofy in San Francisco, I can only imagine what it must be like in Berkeley.

At least we didn’t get a “rename the sewage plant to make fun of Dubya” proposition this year. It was enough just to make it illegal not to have a place to sleep.

Cockroaches v. Bright Light (2010)

Activist judge overturns Proposition 8, completely undermining The People’s fundamental right to discriminate

Today, California’s Proposition 8 was overturned in a ruling by Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker. The National Organization for Marriage quickly issued a press release:

“Big surprise! We expected nothing different from Judge Vaughn Walker, after the biased way he conducted this trial,” said Brian Brown, President of NOM. “With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman….”

Their desire for appeal is understandable, considering the clear bias of Walker, who is, of course openly gay. (And who was originally nominated by Ronald Reagan, failed to be confirmed because of liberal opposition to his “insensitivity” towards homosexuals, was again nominated by George H.W. Bush, and was unanimously approved by a Republican-majority Senate).

This outrageous demonstration of the separation of powers has sent shockwaves throughout the nation, raising deeper questions about the fundamentals of American government, such as: “Have any of you people ever read a high school Civics textbook?” Understandably, the defendants in the case were quick to express their outrage:

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for all Californians to consider our history of leading the way to the future, and our growing reputation of treating all people and their relationships with equal respect and dignity.”

California Attorney General Jerry Brown: “In striking down Proposition 8, Judge Walker came to the same conclusion I did when I declined to defend it: Proposition 8 violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry, without a sufficient governmental interest.”

Supporters of Proposition 8 — who are not homophobic, just deeply committed to states’ rights and the freedom of religion, no honest — lament this as yet another example of the long, unsettling history of judicial activism in the United States. Loving v. Virginia, Brown v. Board of Education, where does it all end? The very concept of activist judges legislating from the bench is the antithesis of the ideals our country was founded on.

Brian Raum of the “Alliance Defense Fund” — again, not persecuting gays but defending the democratic process — paints a nightmare scenario:

“The majority of California voters simply wished to preserve the historic definition of marriage. The other side’s attack upon their good will and motives is lamentable and preposterous,” Mr. Raum said. “Imagine what would happen if every state constitutional amendment could be eliminated by small groups of wealthy activists who malign the intent of the people. It would no longer be America, but a tyranny of elitists.”

Imagine what would happen if every citizen’s rights could be eliminated by large groups of wealthy religious activists from out of state who introduce new discrimination into a state’s constitution under the hypocritical guise of “defending” an institution. It would no longer be America, but a tyranny of bigots.

After all, seven million people voted in favor of Proposition 8. Are we going to say that the opinions of seven million people are less valid than the opinion of one man? (Well, one man and the 6.4 million men and women who voted against the proposition?)

As Fox News responsibly asks: “I’m not sure but shouldn’t voters views count for something?” The ballot didn’t even include an “I’m not sure” option; it reduced it to a simple “for” or “against”. (Well, a simple “for a ban against the right of same-sex couples to marry” or “against the ban for the right of same-sex couples to not marry.”) If we can’t trust the right of disinterested strangers to make uneducated decisions about the rights of others, then where would we be? Advancing the issue to an appointed third party who makes decisions based on nothing more than years of legal training, familiarity with constitutional law, the merit of the prosecution and defense’s cases, weeks of deliberation, and a public ruling subject to appeal? In America?

Meanwhile, thousands of gay men and women were unavailable for comment at press time, as they are waiting for the judicial process to continue through a lengthy series of appeals and continued deliberation while watching thousands of their friends and relatives in real relationships have their marriages acknowledged without resistance. Or were spending years if not decades praying to be “cured,” waking up every day filled with self-loathing and a desperate wish to no longer be different from everyone else, lying in bed staring at the ceiling contemplating the likelihood of dying alone and wondering if suicide would be better. Or running for office on an anti-gay-rights platform.

(And incidentally, to the helpful people pointing out that marriages shouldn’t be the responsibility of government in the first place: Feel free to introduce a separate proposition outlawing civil marriage in California, and see how far you get with that. Until then, back the fuck out of the business of the thousands of people who believe in marriage, have spent their whole lives picturing themselves getting married just like their parents and friends did, want to share that marriage with the world, but can’t because they’ve had to spend years hearing assholes trying to convince them that they chose to be perverted or that they were born “broken.”)