Crosscurrents in 2008

Commentary: Town Square

Gore Vidal once said that God is a convenient fiction. The same can be said of ”gay community.” Despite the common tendency to generalize based on gay urban ghettos and prominent liberal voices, the GLBT population is distributed across all neighborhoods, professions, income levels, and viewpoints.

GLBT people are on various sides of disputes over immigration, gun control, tax reform, smoking bans, gangsta rap-and presidential elections. Given the multiplicity of directions in which we are going, it is implausible to describe a particular position as ”the gay position.” Like the population as a whole, we are scattered across affinity groups, risk groups and political philosophies.

It is easy to lose sight of this as another presidential race heats up and various gay politicos line up behind different candidates. Once you have jumped on board a particular campaign, your job is to emphasize how wonderful your candidate is and how terrible the others are. But with no one other than comic-relief candidate Dennis Kucinich supporting civil-marriage equality, and no great courage visible among generally gay-friendly candidates on issues such as gays in the military, there is no slam-dunk gay case to be made for one candidate.

Republican Rudy Giuliani, who had previously taken a position similar to Hillary Clinton’s supporting civil unions but not same-sex marriage, recently pulled a Mitt Romney. Reacting to New Hampshire’s civil unions bill, Giuliani’s campaign told the New York Sun, ”In this specific case the law states same-sex civil unions are the equivalent of marriage and recognizes same-sex unions from outside states. This goes too far and Mayor Giuliani does not support it.”

Giuliani’s stunning flip-flop is a reminder of the futility of expecting leadership from politicians on controversial social issues. The GOP will not summon what its greatest standard-bearer called the better angels of its nature until the party’s voters repudiate the fanatics to whom Giuliani and Romney are pandering. At the May 3 Republican presidential candidate forum, Tommy Thompson supported the right of private employers to fire gay workers, then reversed himself afterward, impressing nobody. Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo bravely agreed with the majority of Americans who don’t believe in evolution.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s vague promise of access to a second Clinton White House does not bowl me over any more than her slogan, ”In it to win it,” but she deserves credit for being the only candidate from either major party who accepted the Human Rights Campaign’s invitation to meet. And her strong performance in the April 26 Democratic forum suggests she remains the one to beat.

Barack Obama’s inspiring delivery and sophisticated responses on April 26, coupled with his strong early fundraising, suggest he has staying power. In a pleasant departure from the general rhetorical caution, Chris Dodd, expressing support for civil unions, speculated that his young daughters could turn out to be lesbians. The general hesitance of Democratic candidates to address GLBT concerns shows how much work we have left to do.

What common cause can we find in the campaign free-for-all? If you are a Democrat, you may be willing to settle for any of the Democratic candidates, but that leaves out the roughly one-fourth of gay exit-poll responders who vote for Republicans. Frustrating though it may be, it makes no sense to talk of a single, cohesive GLBT movement once it sinks in that our diversity is less a value to be celebrated than a reality to be faced.

Sometimes we can best view people far from us on the political landscape as laboring in another part of the vineyard. But when that metaphor fails–when others appear from our vantage point to be pulling up the vines–then, by recognizing that we cannot police beliefs, we can perhaps make our peace with the fact that all of us are part of the social ferment which over time has led to greater opportunities and freedom.

Election decisions are easier if you use litmus tests. If you refuse to vote for any candidate who does not support marriage equality, you can give up after Kucinich loses. But for those of us intent upon making the best available choice, the presence of multiple gay-friendly candidates is more significant than their imperfections. And having a visible gay presence in multiple campaigns is more important than collectively agreeing on a candidate. It shows that we are an integral part of the body politic, which (at least for this assimilationist) is a victory in itself.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org). He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

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