Unlike most Americans, I haven't taken a side on the gay marriage / gay rights fiasco yet. I'm not ashamed to admit this. It seems to me that the answers to these issues rest on fundamental unanswered questions.

Briefly, my assessment of the progression of the gay rights movement goes something like this. Within the last few years, homosexual activist groups have become more assertive in pushing for reforms that, as they see it, will help remedy long-standing prejudices and inequalities towards gays. As is usually the case in such matters, the calls to reform crystallize around a rather narrow set of hot-button issues, such as gay marriage. Religious leaders and political leaders, for slightly different reasons, respond to the new burst of activism with dogged resistance. Religious leaders do so because religious dogma is inherently a rigid enterprise, and consequently is completely irrelevant to contemporary issues. Contemporary political leaders do so because the group currently in power is not above using any tactics to win and maintain power, including demagoguery designed to appeal to a small but powerful minority of religious suppoters. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans don't have nearly as strong opinions on the matter as the zealots, and so they either follow suit with the standard political narrative (gays will ruin the integrity of families and society, marriage is a sacred institution, homosexuality is a sinful choice...etc.) or remain quiet and drop out of the political equation altogether.

The actual injustices that are driving the discontent, however, are much more diffuse and multifold. Unconcealed intolerance in the South, hate crimes and the like, archaic sodomy laws, persistent workplace discrimination, the recent gay adoption laws, laughable media crusades, and a rising religious movement that preaches the uncompromising moral and religious wickedness of homosexuality are all perceived as evidence of general hostility towards gay people. The gay marriage issue is pretty much a red herring in my opinion. Unfortunately for the greater cause, the rashness of the most extreme gay reformers and the opportunism of politicians has put this at the forefront of the public consciousness of the gay rights issue.

The substitution of a kind of proxy debate in place of the real issues ultimately disadvantages the reform movement. Conservatives reflexively object to anything that entails a break with tradition, such as the redefinition of marriage. Consequently, gay rights reformers end up arguing defensively about the definitions of words and technicalities of institutional practices. Meanwhile, no progress is being made on the more important objective of addressing intolerance. The gay reform crowd should be 100 times more concerned with ending discrimination of all forms (the "right" to marry is awfully insignificant discrimination and mostly symbolic comparatively), ensuring that gays not be used as political scapegoats or vehicles for demagoguery, and protecting their political rights and equality under the law from the infringement of religious zealots. All that pleading for marriage will do is push conservatives' buttons.

It's mind-numbing how so many gay reformers refuse the seemingly self-evident path of least resistantce - working with the Democratic party to further their goals. Ideologically, Democrats are much more sympathetic to the cause. But this is because Democrats are completely inept. And even the gay movement knows it! Personally, I despise the current Democratic party for the very reason that it's ineffectual and unwilling to directly challenge (just complaining doesn't count) the republicans on any issues of importance. As an example, the "values debate" is what mobilized evangelical voters to show up in record numbers last election. Instead of declaring the values issue a lost cause, Democrats must assert the separation between church values and government values (insofar as government values even exist...) as a fundamental constitutional tenet, and then counter with a new commensense, civil definition of values. It wouldn't be that hard. All it would take is a prominent Democratic Senator going on television and saying "The Republicans have claimed a monopoly on values. In the process, they've defined values in a narrow and incomplete way. We respect their cultural values, and their right to assert them. But we believe true American values go beyond cultural matters to issues of foreign policy, executive accountability, fiscal responsibility, electoral reform, etc... and must respect the separation between religion and government." In contrast, presently we have chairman Howard Dean publicly announcing that the values debate is not one the Democratic party particularly wishes to engage in, nor one that it can win. And you have Barbara Boxer engaging in her weekly tirades of futile resistance on the senate floor. The current democratic modus operendi is so unconscionable to me it's almost unreal. Then again, I don't understand much about the way politics actually works. My dad's theory is that Democrats are abstaining on all of these issues so as to give them more punch when they address them come campaign time for the next house election cycle. I hope he's right. My own theory on why you see so many gay Republicans is that the relationship between gays and the Republican party is a little like the Stockholm Syndrome for political disenfranchisement. Your abuser is kind of an asshole, but at least he's the only one who has any power to do anything, so simple expedience dictates you side with him.

This debate is going to be dominated by demagogues screaming aburdities about the apocolyptic ramifications of things like gay marriage until reformers start soliciting solid factual information to change the currency of the debate from mysticism and scare tactics to fact and reality. Demagoguery always trumps reasonableness and moderation in an environment of ignorance.

I don't think it is inaccurate to assert that around the country, gays are currently treated with the same level of ignorance and intolerance that blacks were 60 years ago, or jews were intermittently throughout history. Discrimination is defined as the unequal treatment of people based on attributes that are functionally or otherwise not relevant to the situation at hand. The color of your skin...this is generally not relevant, no matter what the context. On the other hand, the differential treatment of people who possess criminal records IS permissible if the fact is relevant to the context. Yet, still, in some contexts, a criminal record is not relevant, such as in getting a job as a floor sweeper. In terms of the gay issue, we are sadly ignorant of the underlying facts that determine how this issue fits into the accepted paradigm for discrimination. Why can we still not agree on how much of being gay is a choice and how much of it is something that can't be helped? And the answer won't come from evangelicals (who have already set up conversion programs all throughout the country, with mixed results at best). It will come from hard factual science. On any given gay issue, people should demand to rationally specify how being gay is relevant to the issue, be it gay marriage, gays on the job, gays in the military, gays as teachers, etc. Does gay marriage solely constitute a breach of tradition, or does it have legitimate potential for adverse social effects? Of course, to an extent, the second question of relevance relates back to the first of choice in that in many cases the question of relevance hinges on the theory of propagation by example, which in turn depends on how homosexuality originates.

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