Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Arthur Answers, Part 5 – A little gaiety

Lately, the posts in this series of “Ask Arthur” answers have been kind of serious. Which means it’s time to inject a little gaiety into this series. Even so, today's subjects are still serious—it's just there's a theme for this post.

Roger Green asked on Facebook:

“Does the foot dragging on marriage equality implementation, primarily in the US South surprise, or irritate you? Or do you think it's just an inevitable part of the process?”

Much, though certainly not all, of the foot-dragging has started to resolve itself since Roger first posted the question at the start of the month, but my answer to the question is, yes.

I wasn’t surprised, since the pro-discrimination crowd had fought so long and hard and invested so much energy and money into preserving discrimination that there was simply no way they could back down once they’d lost.

However, it’s always irritating when people grandstand for political, especially partisan, reasons, and this was that. Some of the grandstanding, like that infamous judge in Alabama, was just pandering (and fundraising), and along the line some officials were used by the radical right anti-gay industry to try and score points with the most frothing part of the USA’s Rightwing (to better raise money). All of that irritated me.

But the clerks and such who dug in their heels, many of whom were being used, are more objects of pity than scorn. It’s really sad when people use their prejudices as justification for denying equal treatment under law. The clerks’ refusal was never about “religious freedom”, and only ever about anti-gay animus. We know this because they didn’t refuse marriage licenses to people who were divorced and remarrying, people of different religious beliefs—or, especially, no religious belief, inter-racial marriages, etc., etc., etc. I’ve no doubt that some of the refuseniks really did believe it was about religious freedom, but it wasn’t. That was irritating, but more pitiable than actually angering.

So, because it was all expected, including the political posturing, and because the individuals who refused were worthy of pity, not scorn, on the whole I’d say it was all part of the process.

Roger also asked me to comment on the “controversy” around a picture of shirtless men raising the rainbow flag, looking much like the famous photo of the Iwo Jima flag raising (See: “Iwo Jima Marines, gay pride and a photo adaptation that spawns fury” in the Washington Post).

I absolutely hated the “controversy”. The photo was over a decade old and, as the photographer, Ed Freeman, pointed out, it only became widely known because of social media, which, as we all know, has a ready-made audience of people looking to be outraged over nothing very much at all.

Years ago (I have no idea how many), I saw the photo (I have no idea where) and thought nothing in particular about it (apart, maybe, from thinking the lads seemed rather attractive—maybe). The point is, it certainly didn’t outrage me at the time, probably because I’d seen the image appropriated dozens of times over the years, often to promote products, some of which might be viewed as disrespectful.

The main reason I hated the “controversy” wasn’t just because of how stupid it was, but also because the visceral reaction from SO many people was obviously because of its gay theme. I know people are quick to become outraged these days, but it seemed that too many were too quick to assume that gay people had done something just to insult them, and that insulted me.

Roger also asked me to comment on an anti-gay marriage ad made by a rightwing Roman Catholic group. The ad appropriated gay imagery and themes to make an anti-gay point, and it was a truly awful idea. AdWeek discussed it and posted the videos of the ad and the first parody. The AdWeek commentary is pretty much what I thought, too. Obviously, the Catholic group can be anti-gay if they want to be, and they’re free to oppose the freedom to marry if they must, but to do so by stealing the very imagery used by LGBT people for years is pretty crass, and using it to try and present themselves as “victims” and “oppressed” is actually pretty disgusting. Still, they’ve been roundly mocked for the ad, which is good. Again, the point here is not that they’re anti-gay (one of many religious groups), the point is that they deliberately insulted and mocked LGBT people in order to try and get people to oppress us, and that was despicable about it.

Finally (for today), Roger asked here on the blog:

“Matt Baume's book (Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love) – I'm about a quarter of the way through it – talks a lot about some gay folks believing that marriage as an institution was heterosexist hegemony, and they wanted to have nothing to do with it. Others (later) thought that a domestic partnership was "marriage-lite". What was your evolution on these issues?”

I well remember when I was an activist that some of my more Leftist colleagues were against the idea of marriage, because of the reasons you list, among others, but I wasn’t opposed: I just thought it wouldn’t happen for decades, possibly not in my lifetime. I supported marriage equality all along, I just didn’t see it as a winnable battle back then.

When things picked up speed this century, and some Leftists were still objecting, I became an advocate for marriage. My position was—as it has been for some 35 years—that it was wrong to exclude gay couples from marriage because LGBT people ought to be equal citizens and treated as such. I knew (and know) that many Leftist LGBT people were (and remain) opposed to marriage, to which my glib but sincere answer has been, “then don’t get married.” Their personal opposition to marriage wasn’t a legitimate reason why the rest of us should be denied, just as the fact that some rightwing religionists opposed it also wasn’t a legitimate reason to forbid it.

I also thought that the various separate and unequal marriage alternatives proposed for gay couples were never anything more than “marriage lite”. One of the few blog posts I permanently deleted was one in which I called New Zealand’s then still new Civil Unions “marriage lite”. The problem was that in this country, as in so many other places, civil unions, etc., were seen as a stepping-stone to marriage equality: Calling it “marriage lite” was counter-productive, while a steady campaign showing why that was the case was a strategy. Subtle, and a little too “don’t make no waves” for me, but probably true (and why I deleted that post).

The fact is, I’ve always been a pragmatist: Take what we can get now, even as we work toward full equality. So, civil unions, etc., were a means to an end, but—and this is what mattered to me—they gave at least some of the protection of marriage right then, even as we waited and worked for full equality. I’ve always felt it’s better to get a little civil rights and keep working, than it is to have no rights while we wait for the “someday” in which full equality arrives. This is also why Nigel and I got a civil union: We had no idea that marriage equality would arrive so quickly, and we wanted to protect our family. When marriage became possible, we got married, of course.

Thanks to Roger Green for the questions for today. I obviously grouped them because they all related to gay stuff, but the remaining questions don’t lend themselves to such easy grouping, so the rest of the posts in this series will probably be shorter—probably.

We’re nearing the end of this series, with some very interesting questions still to go, but there’s still time to ask questions! You can leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are okay). You can also email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). And, for the first time, you can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page.


rogerogreen said...

I have since finished the Baume book. Probably need to write my own responses, less to the book, and more to those points.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I'm actually now where you were when you asked the question. :-/

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