Port in a Storm

Commentary: Alphabet Soup

News this week that the California Assembly passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage in that state was cause for excitement, without a doubt. The measure now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who’s about as gay-friendly as Republicans come, but who has declared that the state’s courts should determine whether the marriage law should extend to gay couples there.

Since the legislature there initiated this move, rather than passing it by court mandate as Massachusetts did, it normally would be one of the most thrilling developments the gay community could ask for. But the news fell flat in the context of the ongoing devastation in the area of this country ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flooding in New Orleans.

It’s difficult to imagine celebrating political victories generally, or doing something as specific as planning a sunset wedding on the beach, when a city has been ravaged and people are still stranded there, some dying, bodies lying on sidewalks and floating down the waterlogged thoroughfares that used to be streets.

I’ve been struck by how easily life has gone on for most of this country while one of its major cities has been essentially decimated. We don’t yet know the death toll, but it could easily surpass the loss of lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I remember how in the aftermath of that attack, the entire nation was stunned — it felt like everything stood still as we attempted to wrap our minds around what had happened. We needed time to recover, and we took time to recover. But it feels like not much has stood still since the hurricane hit and then the levees failed.

Some would point out that the victims on Sept. 11 weren’t overwhelmingly black or overwhelmingly poor — they were white-collar professionals, for the most part, a detail that maybe hit too close to home for most of the country. Fewer of us can grasp what it means to be so disenfranchised in this society, to not have the means to escape the path of a hurricane headed toward our city, even if it doesn’t really occur to us that the real disaster will result a day or so later, a byproduct of years of federal neglect.

Maybe as a nation we’re more jaded now than we were four years ago, but I can’t help remembering how Major League Baseball suspended play for six days in 2001; nothing of the sort happened this year. Bats went right on swinging — no one missed a beat speculating about who might win the wild card race.

You can bet legislatures weren’t pushing through civil rights legislation in the week following the terrorist attacks, either.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m delighted that elected officials in California have taken this step forward. I’d begun to believe that I wouldn’t see gay marriage widely legalized in this country during my lifetime, and the thought of a legislature proactively passing such a measure makes me a little more hopeful on that front. But it’s really difficult for me to be jubilant right now.

Of course, there are people who find an obvious link between the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the gay civil rights movement — they probably are way less jubilant than I am about this development in California. The hateful Web site RepentAmerica.com quickly issued a tired, predictable, ridiculous diatribe about how disaster hit New Orleans because the city was due to host Southern Decadence, a major gay gathering, a few days after the storm. ”Hurricane Katrina has put an end to the annual celebration of sin,” the statement says.

But there are other people who’ve made a link between the disaster and sexual orientation who give me hope, who inspire me. The temporary housing postings on the New Orleans Craigslist site include dozens from gays all over the country who are opening their homes to people who have lost everything in this tragedy.

”This is a nice, friendly place to recover,” writes a California lesbian couple, offering a guest room and free food and transportation to a lesbian or female couple. ”And we offer compassion and comfort. … Our hearts go out to all victims of Katrina, gay, lesbian, and otherwise.”

”Gay couple will get you back on your feet,” proclaims an ad posted from Alexandria, Va. ”… NO STRINGS OR EXPECTATIONS. We’ll house you, feed you, clothe you and even assist you in getting here. We can help you find employment to start over.”

A kind soul in Tucson, Ariz., who doesn’t disclose a sexual orientation, posts: ”I am willing to provide my nicely furnished guest room (double bed) to a senior citizen (female or couple, gay or straight, black or white) interested in coming to Tucson to start a new life. Race and sexual orientation are NOT an issue.”

Generous offers like these — focusing on the human element of this tragedy, as opposed to foolishly assigning blame for the disaster — give me more hope right now than any piece of legislation could, particularly when our federal government was appallingly slow to respond to the crisis. This really is gay community, on a national scale. This is the collective gay family opening its arms and its doors to people in need.

Those who would find fault with this ”lifestyle” should be the ones repenting.

Kristina Campbell can be reached at kcampbell@metroweekly.com. Alphabet Soup appears biweekly.

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