LGBT rights activist Kevin Jennings sounds the alarm about the persecution of gay people in Russia, Uganda and Gambia:
even as the momentum in the U.S. seems to be accelerating in the right direction, a disturbing countertrend has emerged in other countries, where justice for LGBT people is being dismissed as a “Western” assault on “traditional values” and alarming new laws are literally threatening the very lives of LGBT people and their allies.
What Kevin is describing is more prevalent than many people realize. Here is Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, repeatedly telling a persistent Guardian reporter that consensual homosexual behavior will remain a crime in Liberia.
After seeing this interview, which includes former British PM Tony Blair being unwilling to take Sirleaf on, Guardian subscribers all over West London were probably stamping their Birkenstocked feet and thinking that the post-imperial multipolar world wasn’t supposed to be like this. Similarly, a non-negligible number of Americans believe that the US is a unusually repressive country that just needs to get out of a way in order for tolerance and human rights to flower around the globe.
But Americans don’t have to travel much outside of the developed world to realize that their homeland respects individual rights to an extraordinary degree. If you want to openly love someone of the same sex, or make a speech critical of the government, or start your own newspaper, or access birth control, or hold a political rally, to cite only a few examples, the US is one of the very best countries in which to live.
China is not going to push for freedom of the press around the world. Russia is not going to pressure countries to expand gay rights. India is not going to demand that other countries combat sexual violence against women. Americans who think that retreating from the international scene will somehow facilitate an expansion of individual rights suffer from ignorance of other cultures and a lack of gratitude for the freedoms they themselves enjoy. Kevin’s words should be weighed by any American planning to sit out the fight for human rights around the world:
Baby Boomer children often asked their parents, “What did you do during the War?” Similarly, future generations will look back on this time of international crisis and ask us, “What did you do?” We either must act, or be remembered in shame for doing nothing
There’s always been a strong authoritarian element on the American Right. Some conservatives hated Communism for its tyranny, but there were others who hated only the planned economy: after all, they were fine with Chiang Kai-shek and Pinochet and Galtieri and d’Aubuisson and Savimbi and the Greek colonels and the Shah, and of course with racial tyranny in South Africa and Rhodesia.
So now that Putin is running a tyranny with billionaires instead of a tyranny with apparatchiki, he’s apparently eligible for right-wing admiration.
Footnote Politics has always made strange bedfellows, but this particular bed is starting to get a little crowded, with Putin and Limbaugh and Fischer and Buchanan. I wonder who … never mind!
What’s a hyper-patriot Christian Dominionist doing praising KGB Col. Putin?
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association – who heads an organization that owns 200 radio stations, and whose anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Hindu, and anti-labor views make him an acceptable guest at “conservative” gatherings – has words of praise for Russian tyrant (and former KGB colonel) Vladimir Putin’s move to suppress public debate over same-sex relationships.
Here’s my favorite passage from the anti-gay Scouting website:
Parents should have the exclusive right to raise issues about sex and sexuality with their children in their own time and in their own way, in the privacy of their homes; not brought up by other older boys around a campfire.
Because of course boys at Scout camp never discuss girls.
So, to the question: When is the last time a Scout was expelled for having premarital sex?
Sometimes when advocates want to change society, they conclude that they need to “get in people’s faces” about the issue, call in the TV cameras, march in the streets and thereby force a national conversation to occur.
At other times, advocates quietly accrue small victories out of limelight until the facts on the ground have changed before any significant opposition has been roused.
In a fascinating article at Washington Monthly, Alison Gash points out that same sex marriage advocates took the former route, whereas same sex parenting advocates took the latter. Gash compares the process and outcomes of both initiatives, concluding that
History books suggest that our society has made its greatest leaps on the shoulders of high profile campaigns. But change can also be the result of quiet battles that play out in courtrooms, boardrooms and bedrooms all across the country. And it is often these hidden battles that most effectively propel our society forward.
The partisan Democrat in me hopes the Supremes figure out a way to duck, and force the battle to be fought out, state-by-state, in referenda that will split the Republican coalition and alienate even right-leaning independents. If we were looking for a way to generate Presidential-level turnout in an off year, a bunch of referenda on gay marriage would be a good start. (However, that partisan Democrat isn’t all of me; on balance, I hope they do the right thing.)
But what you can’t make up is that McCaskill quotes First Corinthians 13:13 (“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”) to justify her position. Yes, I know that the same passage gets used in lots of wedding ceremonies, ever since the Bible translators started translating á¼€Î³Î¬Ï€Î· agape as “love” rather than the KJV “charity.” But that doesn’t make it any less silly.
I don’t say “love” is a bad translation; there isn’t a short English word that means what agape means, which as I understand it is a generalized goodwill. “Lovingkindness” seems more or less right, but as poetry it just doesn’t fit with “faith” and “hope.” But what it doesn’t mean is romantic love; the closest thing to that concept in Greek would be á¼”ÏÏ‰Ï‚ “eros” (= desire).
If Saul of Tarsus was still thinking in Hebrew even as he was writing in Greek, perhaps the word he had in mind was “ahavah,” ××”×‘×” , which has the same ambiguity as “love” in English, being used both of religious devotion (“and you will love HaShem your god with all your heart) and of sexual desire (“Isaac loved Rebecca”). But since the word he actually wrote has no sexual connotation – and since Saul/Paul wasn’t actually much in favor of marriage, regardless of the gender identities of those being married – the quotation is far from apposite, both here and in the wedding ceremony.
Of course what’s really silly is the pretense that the Senior Senator from Missouri has been reading the Bible rather than the polls. St. Paul, after all, was just as strong on the virtue of “love” ten years ago. Yes, it makes sense to try to soften the blow for the churchgoers who will be dismayed by McCaskill’s new stance by acknowledging the authority of the Christian tradition. But the combination of bad Greek and bad faith is just a little bit hard to swallow.
Yes, as a moral stance reconsidering your principles only when they hurt you personally isn’t especially impressive. Jonathan Chait asks, “But why should any of us come away from his conversion trusting that Portman is thinking on any issue about whatâ€™s good for all of us, rather than whatâ€™s good for himself and the people he knows?” And no one answers. Since no Republican officeholder expects to become poor, let alone black or undocumented, they will continue in good conscience to back policies are horrible for poor, black, and undocumented people, unless they think it will cost them votes. (The Onion to the contrary notwithstanding, none of their kids will die for lack of health coverage. Note that Portman doesn’t seem to have changed his mind about job discrimination against gays.)
Still, I’ll take what I can get. Maybe his son’s coming-out genuinely drove Portman to re-examine his conscience, or maybe it provided an easy way for Portman to make a move necessary if he wants to win enough Millennial votes to capture the White House, while cushioning the blow to social conservatives.
One thing you can bet the ranch on: it wouldn’t have happened ten years ago, and it won’t be necessary ten years from now. In the meantime, celebrate!
The civil rights hero makes a video for marriage equality in Maryland.
The civil rights hero, now Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP, has made a pro-marriage-equality video for the Maryland vote on Tuesday, where the African-American vote is likely to be crucial and some of the preachers are crusading against equality – using the same sort of nonsensical Biblical exegesis used by white preachers in the South to prove that Jim Crow was the Will of God – but where President Obama’s shift seems to have changed opinions within the black community.
That’s one in the eye for the right-wing concern trolls who tried to use Prop. 8 in California to stir up hatred between gays and blacks to help the cause of the racist/plutocrat alliance. “If we do not hang together, assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
When the DOMA case gets to the Supreme Court, will the Solicitor General be there on behalf of the United States of America, to defend bigotry? We get to decide November 6. Now tell me again why it doesn’t matter who wins?
But of course this is going up to the Supreme Court. When it gets there, will the Solicitor General, on behalf of the United States of America, defend it? The voters get to make that decision November 6.
If on occasion I get just a mite testy with the people who insist that it doesn’t matter who wins, or that the choice that day is between evils, this is one of many reasons why. Yes, if I were a nicer person I’d be more polite about it, but not everyone has Harold’s saintly disposition.
Update Commenter Ken Rhodes writes:
Iâ€™m puzzled by the mention of the Solicitor General, defense of the DOMA, and the upcoming election, all together in that short paragraph. How are they related? Who defended the DOMA, on behalf of the government, in the two referenced Court of Appeals cases? Isnâ€™t it the job of an attorney to represent his client, irrespective of his personal distaste?
More than a year ago, President Obama and Attorney General Holder decided that the law could not conscionably be defended (legal argument here).
Fox News and various Republican politicians accused Obama of tyranny and called for his impeachment.
With DoJ off the case, the Republicans in Congress decided to spend $1.5 million of the moneey we keep being reminded we “borrow from China” to hire private counsel to defend the sacred right of bigots to enact their prejudices into law. They ought to be made to pay a political price for that decision.
I had a friend who as a young man was a macho, hard-drinking World War II hero. The surprise of his life came when he learned that his son was gay. The scene was every bit as awful as you would imagine, with hateful, scarring words uttered on both sides. But by the time I met him in his old age, my friend was a proud PFLAG member. At his funeral, his son offered a moving remembrance of the father he loved and the relationship they had managed to repair over many years of hard work.
The struggle my friend had with his son was painful and long-lasting, yet it was rooted fundamentally in their love for each other. They cared about each other enough to fight, and to persist through emotional agony and confusion until they re-forged their family bond. In some sense, to be deeply critical of another person’s private life is possible only if you are deeply interested in that person’s private life to begin with.
I would like to think that the aggregation of experiences such as my friend had with his son is a major reason why heterosexual Americans have grown collectively more tolerant of gay people. I am sure it accounts for some of it, but I worry that there is a less noble explanation for some of the new open-mindedness. Let me give an example of the sort of interaction that troubles me:
An undergraduate declares “I don’t get hung up on whether the guy living next door to me is gay”.
“Why not?” I ask.
“Because his sex life isn’t my business. I just don’t care.”, he responds, with a note of pride.
“Would you care if your gay neighbor were unemployed, or had cancer, or were depressed and lonely and needed a friend?”.
After a pause: “No. That’s his business too.”
At my worst moments, I wonder if we are producing tolerance on the cheap as a byproduct of our increasing, technology-fueled self-involvement. Certainly, narcissistically-driven tolerance is better than activated bigotry: If you don’t care about your gay neighbor at all, you don’t care enough to spray paint hateful messages on his house or take a knife to his car’s tires. But I don’t think the tolerance that emerges from not giving a damn about other people generates the growth and understanding that can emerge when people struggle to know and to love each other over what at first seems an insuperable divide of difference.