National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Gay Marriage D

Time traveling back 40 or 50 years in my mind, I found the scene in front of me very familiar. The debate last week on gay marriage, in particular the amendment question on the Virginia ballot next Tuesday, could just as readily been a debate on integration in 1957, or interracial marriage in 1967.

The arguments by the defenders of the idyllic and increasingly scarce Ozzie and Harriett white nuclear family household last week invoked the identical methods used by segregationists and white supremacists a half-century ago. The plain fact is, it is so parallel that it is stunning more don’t see it.

Strip away all the rhetoric and it comes right down to the fact that it’s all about straight (allegedly) white males, predominantly, thinking that people unlike themselves are inferior and therefore not qualified to enjoy the same rights. 

As much as some might passionately believe otherwise, religion has routinely for eons been used as a crutch, or club, to justify of the inferiority of certain classes of people, just as when slavery, racial segregation and bans on interracial marriage were angrily justified from the pulpit as Biblically-correct and mandated by God. 

Today, the Infidel is as condemned in holy places as ever. Should it come as any surprise that religion would be used to target and stigmatize gays and lesbians, subjecting them to similar treatment, as well?

In a society where the institutions of civil government assert the unalienable rights and equality of all people, the task of any angry defense of inequality is left to bad religion.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court, in overruling a Texas law against sodomy, established that gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to the same rights as every other citizen, to equal justice under the law. 

That ruling was entirely in keeping with the same extension of U.S. Constitutional intent that established racial equality a half century ago and gender equality 20 years later. And the reaction now to it has involved the identical tactic that foes of racial integration used to stem its implementation earlier.

Fueled from fundamentalist and religiously authoritarian pulpits, religious resistance to the extension of civil rights is being mobilized at the level of state government. Once again, so-called “activist judges” are declared the enemy, veritable agents of Satan, against the religiously-fueled “will of the people.”

I can think of two other elements that also feed the resistance. One is a gut feeling of predominantly white majority males who simply find equality personally offensive or distasteful. That used to apply to race, now it applies to sex.

When I asked a white male in Virginia recently why he is against equal rights for lesbians and gays, he answered bluntly, “Because I think it’s disgusting!”

 “Well, excuse me,” I thought but did not say, “but looking at you, the mental image of you having any kind of sex disgusts me, too. That applies to Jerry Falwell in spades. Can you imagine? Ugh! But that does not mean I want to deny your rights.”

Another thing used to justify inequality is alleged statistical information. The inferior group has lower tests scores on this or that, higher rates of mortality and illness, greater proneness here and there, and so forth.

Knowing how these were used by defenders of slavery and segregation in our nation’s less savory history, it was downright shocking to hear the executive director of the so-called Family Foundation of Virginia rattle off such alleged data about gays and lesbians to defend her support for the Constitutional amendment. 

In the battle for racial civil rights, of course, such data whenever it was used was summarily dismissed as irrelevant in the face of the right to equality and assumed skewed, if anywhere remotely associated with the truth, by the scourge of centuries of inequality and oppression. One statistic that the other side ignored in last week’s debate was the fact that more than half the households in the U.S. are now single-parent.

But the coup de grace in the debate last week came in remarks by the co-author of Virginia’s anti-gay amendment, the very white, very male Republican Delegate Robert G. Marshall of Fairfax. Pressed at the conclusion of the debate what he thought was wrong with the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court, made days earlier to follow the U.S. Supreme Court mandate and extend equal rights to lesbians and gays, he first said that if he was in New Jersey, he’d “tell that Supreme Court to go to hell.”

Asked what he thinks is wrong with basic equality, he snorted, “Equality is when equal things are treated equally. Inequality is when unequal things are rendered equal. Heterosexuality and sodomy are not equal.”

In other words, he argued that gays and lesbians are simply unequal, thereby inherently inferior and unworthy of equal rights. My response to that is a very bellicose, “Says who?”