Every year Gay Pride month begets an obligatory stream of mainstream non-news, and this one has been no exception. "Democrats Cautious on Gay Rights Issues" from this past Sunday's Washington Post must have had queers involuntarily spraying orange juice through their nostrils from Seattle to Springfield.
I mean, really. Is there anyone on earth for whom this is news?
You don't even need to go as far back as 2000, when Dick Cheney shellacked Joe Lieberman on gay rights in the vice-presidential debate. Hell, just this past spring the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama camps fumbled and bumbled like Keystone Kops following the declaration of Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that homosexuality was immoral.
But it's gay marriage, more than any other queer-related issue, which sets off breathtaking displays of equivocation as candidates struggle mightily to pander to the polls (allegedly the majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage) without losing gay votes and dollars.
"I haven't yet got across that bridge," John Edwards says. Clinton and Obama straddle similar lines, "citing religious concerns and the fact that older generations of Americans view the term 'marriage' as a commitment between a man and a woman."
It's a near-perfect ploy. How can you call these nice peoples' positions homophobic or cowardly when clearly it's just a personal-religious-thing and a respecting-the-elders thing?
University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein takes this bigotry-as-religious-belief-and-respect even further in this past May's New Yorker profile of Obama:
If there's a deep moral conviction that gay marriage is wrong, if a majority of Americans believe on principle that marriage is an institution for men and women, I'm not at all sure he shares that view, but he's not an in-your-face type," Sunstein says. "To go in the face of people with religious convictions -- that's something he'd be very reluctant to do." This is not, Sunstein believes, due only to pragmatism; it also stems from a sense that there is something worthy of respect in a strong and widespread moral feeling, even if it's wrong.
Now this is one very clever little piece of PR. On the one hand, Obama didn't say these words, so he can't be held accountable for them. On the other hand, Obama's campaign hasn't denied or revised Sunstein's comments. So Sunstein's speculations are just kind of out there.
In a dazzling display of University of Chicago law school pyrotechnics, Sunstein suggests that Obama might be more liberal than he lets on re: marriage equality while spinning his colleague's failure to publicly support it as a healthy outgrowth of Obama's penchant for compromise and his respect for -- of all things -- difference.
On planet Sunstein, talking to people who oppose marriage equality about marriage equality is getting "in-your-face" (which, by the way, is precisely what white people are always afraid black people will do to them), and it's the reverse of the image Obama's people want you to have of their candidate. And challenging people's "religious convictions," even when those convictions justify unconstitutional forms of bigotry, isn't brave or moral. It's not even an opportunity for Obama to display his much-lauded ability to reconcile people with allegedly opposing views -- the focus of the entire New Yorker profile, which is called "The Conciliator."
I can't help but wonder about Obama, the son of a black, Kenyan father and a white, American mother. He was born six years before Loving v. Virginia ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the US. Had he come of age earlier, would he have remained silent about those laws, which would have forced his father to pretend to be his mother's chauffeur as they drove across America? Would he have maintained that silence with folks who made those laws -- acting out of the same kinds of "deep moral convictions" and "religious beliefs" that now decree that marriage can only be between a man and a woman?
Now, I think that Obama's more decent than most. I'd even say the same of Clinton and Edwards. And I know that presidential contenders have to say a lot of stupid shit. But that doesn't keep me from being offended by this gamesmanship when it comes to my rights.
So while one of these Democrats will almost surely get my vote, not a one of them is going to get a penny from me.
After all, I'm an old-fashioned kind of girl. My grandparents -- all of them the children of Jewish immigrants who fled the pogroms of late 19th-century Czarist Russia -- passed on to me their very strong feelings about not supporting bigotry.
I haven't yet got across that bridge.