Tuesday, June 06, 2006

When the Dust Settles from the Marriage Debate

The Marriage Protection Amendment is dead on arrival in the Senate. The debate is a superficial one, more about pandering to conservatives than protecting America. It's pure politics, and what's great is that nearly everyone, left right and center, understands it as such. We may even find that a majority of the Senate ends up voting against - or very close to it. There seems little use in me echoing what has already been said on tons of blogs and media outlets already. Instead, all of us need to think critically about what we've seen, what the prevailing cultural narrative of what's happened offers, and most importantly, about what is to be done when the dust from this week settles.

We need to be sharply critical of the narrative I've recapped above, that "Bush and the GOP are just pandering." That statement is true, but those on the left who promote that narrative need to be careful. What lies beneath that statement is this idea that Bush and the GOP are actually a lot more fair-minded than they seem, but need to pander to the far right of the party in an election year. There's something insidiously exculpatory about this, making Bush and Frist look helpless in the face of an onslaught by rabid fag-bashers. It's a way of rationalizing their actions, such that the gay right can still claim hope for the GOP, rather than recognizing that the vast majority of that party stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the far right of the party on these issues. Bush and Frist have taken sides against our community, whereas Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (and nearly all the Democrats in the Senate, save Ben Nelson) stand firmly with us. Just as we can't acquit Reagan for his silence on AIDS, we cannot acquit Bush and the GOP for lending their muscle to the same people who sought to kill us all with AIDS and still would like nothing better than for terrorists to blow up every gay bar in America.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we cannot afford to remain on the political fence. We have to take sides. It's true that the Democratic Party is not where it should be on LGBT issues, but abandoning the Democrats is not the solution, as plenty of people have called for in the wake of Howard Dean's recent fuck ups in LGBT community relations. Such incidents make clear that we can't just always side with the Democratic establishment whenever possible, as the Human Rights Campaign did when it endorsed Joe Lieberman over pro-equal marriage Ned Lamont. But we do have to cast our lots with the Democrats and progressives in general. We have to reject the rhetoric that all the politicians, regardless of their party, take us for granted. We can't afford to be neutral in a culture war that has already had and will continue to have real casualties.

We must side with the Democratic Party and the left, even as we continue to challenge them to be as progressive as they claim to be. The LGBT community can have a critical role to play both through fundraising and electoral politics as well as through direct action and movement building. We have allies and friends on the left and in the Democratic Party, and we cannot forget that. Rather than throw up our hands and abandon the Democrats, we need to join our forces with the party's other constituencies to push the party not to abandon its core principles in the pursuit of electoral gain. So many in the party seem content to let it slide to the right, and rather than abet them we can be a force pushing the party back toward the left. If we don't, we lose. The Party will run to the center/right, and our issues will be taken for granted over and over and over again.

There will undoubtedly be moments when an alliance with the Democratic Party will be put to the test. Many will point to Clinton's support of DOMA and of DADT after an election in which gays did a helluva lot to get him elected as two examples of why we can't just cast our lots with loser Dems. But again, there is a difference between casting our lots with only the Democratic Party as opposed to casting them with the Party as well as the broader left. If we can effectively do that, we can retain our support even as we challenge the Party to be the best it can be - not only on our issues, but on all the key issues that matter to progressives, from labor to choice to the environment and immigration and more.

Now, in the heat of the culture war, is not the time for queers to cut and run. We have to stay strong progressives and strong Democrats if, in the long run, we want to win. That means we have to stop supporting the Chris Shays and Mary Bonos and stop supporting the Joe Liebermans, too. At the same time, we need to look beyond merely the electoral realm and start building a true grassroots movement for equality. Only when we can learn to fight at the local level and the electoral level like the Christian right does will we be able to one day in the future truly be able to say, "Mission Accomplished."


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