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I never believed that Barack Obama was really opposed to marriage equality. It wasn’t just that he had previously endorsed it and was completely comfortable with gay people. It was implausible that a man who had taught constitutional law, who was surely well versed in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, would deny equal protection to gay people based on his personal religious convictions. So I assumed that was a politically motivated excuse. The task for pragmatic activists is not to condemn such political calculations, but to change them.
The president’s decision last week to apply heightened scrutiny in cases involving anti-gay discrimination, and specifically not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the Second Circuit Windsor and Pedersen cases, suggests he has calculated that “gay marriage” (to use a problematic, segregating expression) has ceased to be a political no-fly zone. What White House press secretary Jay Carney termed the president’s personal “grappling with the issue” is now largely irrelevant. As Dale Carpenter writes at The Volokh Conspiracy, the Department of Justice analysis means Obama “has said with deeds what he has not quite yet said with words.”
The shifting political ground was evident in Maryland, where Democratic State Sen. James Brochin (Baltimore Co.) was so appalled by the “hate and venom” from opponents of the marriage-equality bill that he switched and voted in favor.
Brochin is not alone. ”Gay Panic” is losing its potency. Most Republican presidential aspirants were either subdued or silent in response to the Justice Department decision. Even Newt Gingrich walked back his initial angry comments about a constitutional crisis and impeachment. The anti-gay doom-crying looks increasingly silly and desperate.
The talk of dire consequences if gay families are legally protected nonetheless persists. On Feb. 25, I participated in a panel discussion on civil rights and gay rights at WEAA FM radio at Morgan State University in Baltimore. One of the other panelists was Pastor Lawrence Richardson of Living Waters Ministries, also of Baltimore, who was introduced as being “committed to the mission of strengthening the family.”
Like other religious bullies, Pastor Lawrence had no hatred for me; he was just claiming a tacit monopoly on faith, ignoring church-state separation, and forewarning of humanity’s demise thanks to people like me. He said that the gay-rights struggle was nothing like the black civil-rights struggle. I replied that of course different struggles are different, but it makes no sense on that account to deny gay people equal protection of the law.
The pastor talked about a “biblical worldview” as if his were the only one possible. I pointed out that Co-Pastors Dennis and Christine Wiley of D.C.’s Covenant Baptist Church also have a biblical worldview, but it is more welcoming and affirming and prompts them to celebrate gay weddings. I also noted, in response to his claim that America was founded on the Bible, that the U.S. Constitution makes no reference to God.
The looniest thing Pastor Lawrence said, even more than invoking bestiality and incest and marriage to 14-year-olds, was that if Congress passed a law declaring that 90 percent of people must be gay and 10 percent straight, reproduction would plummet and we would die out. Tell me, dear reader: Is it comforting or frightening that anyone has that much faith in congressional power?
This scenario, in which gay people seek to Destroy Mankind As We Know It, brings to mind a Feb. 28 New Yorker article about asteroids hitting Earth. I can see a wild-eyed prophet demanding to know: Would you rather die in a flaming asteroid collision or in a genocidal gay affair?
Let’s lose the hysteria. The world has its terrors, but loving and being loved are not among them.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.