Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Losing Gay Marriage in California

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Apparently, there's some fixed amount of freedom in the world, like oil in the ground, or gold, and anybody in their right mind tries to hoard it. That's the idea I get, anyway, when somebody's explaining why you can't give more rights to women (or people of color or immigrants). It'll be coming right out of their pocket, and they can't afford it.

That seems to be the main argument in California, where proponents of Proposition 8 are claiming that same-sex marriage is somehow allowing queer opportunists to deprive them of their personal and religious freedom. If things go on as they are, advertisements say, god-fearing Christians won't be free to even say same-sex marriage is wrong because the thought police will be able to sue you. Churches won't be free to mount anti-gay campaigns and lobby for anti-gay politicians unless they want to lose their tax-exempt status, and teachers won't be free to ignore gay marriage, unless they want to lose their jobs.

Coupled with an enormous cash infusion, a cool $10 million more than queers, this campaign is working far better than old-style smear campaigns painting us as the usual monsters and child molesters. Instead, by making it seem like a question of lost rights, Californians can oppose gay marriage without feeling like bigots. In fact, they're the real victims here, with their civil liberties under attack from those clever gays. It's practically patriotic to vote for Proposition 8.

And what are embattled queer people countering that with? Ads with reassuring heterosexual faces explaining that we're not going to take over the world. That's right. The voice for same sex-marriage is embodied in smarmy hets like San Francisco Mayor Newsom. If you want straights, you should at least get them from Massachusetts where they can attest that after several years of gay marriage nobody's civil or religious freedoms have been abridged. The sky didn't fall. Just a few maple leaves.

If the Proposition passes, ending same-sex marriage, I'll blame national gay leadership, especially Democrats, that already agreed to be invisible in the Obama campaign. By banning us from the camera, they make us seem like a bunch of pervs. It's for our own good, of course. Always for our own good. Mesmerized by their homophobic voices, we've lost our pride, and the belief in our own American stories of loss and striving, like our fights to visit our partners in hospitals, share health insurance, make lives together, all the stories that could persuade a reluctant audience that does, essentially, value equality and civil rights.

Talking about lost rights is compelling on both sides. You've seen them, surely, gypped Americans standing on theirs? They're unstoppable. Which is why politicians play on issues of rights all the time. Sometimes for the force of good, like we could do in California to protect same-sex marriage. But usually it's a conservative tactic. Every law, every regulation is a constraint, a subtraction of your rights. It's why Bush was so successful deregulating the finance industry, and why he got pretty far promising to privatize social security. "Don't you want to control your future?"

Of course we do. Phrased that way, social security sounds more like a noose than a safety net. Who could support it but corrupt politicians? The problem of course is that nobody every says what we'd do with all those folks who seized control of their futures, decided to invest in the stock market and failed. I guess now they'd have the right to eat cat food and sleep in the street.

It's always effective to evoke imaginary lost rights when there are so many real losses, lost jobs, lost homes, lost income, lost sons and lost daughters. Especially now, when it feels like everything has slipped through our fingers under Bush. The Iraq War, prosperity, national pride, the Constitution. There's also quantifiable loss. Between military expenditures and the little matter of the 700 billion dollar bailout, we're so far in the hole we ran out of digits on the National Debt Clock in New York.

It is tempting to cling to the little we have, hoard our rights. Like with children, I suppose the only counter to miserly behavior is to explain the benefit of sharing. In the case of same-sex marriage, we could argue that it strengthens an institution plenty of heterosexuals are turning away from, and also guarantees that we queers take care of our partners so that they don't become burdens on "society."

On the other hand, if our fellow citizens refuse to share the wealth with same-sex couples, maybe we should shift our focus altogether, and demand they quit awarding any special rights to heterosexual marriages. Then we can all share the loss.

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