Last week ("Veto" – 9/8) I sent around a commentary on the status of the same-sex marriage issue in California in which, in retrospect, my own optimism kind of surprised me. Today, I would be less surprised. In Massachusetts, the homophobic lobby tried again to pass a state constitutional amendment barring gay people from having their unions publicly recognized.
I’m used to the homophobes winning and having to wax philosophical with "stepping backward to get a good jump" and similar consolations. Or watching their mean-spirited attempts to codify their fears fail by a narrow margin, and not wanting to celebrate, because close calls don't make you feel very festive. Every once in a while, however, a victory comes down the pike that tastes sweet indeed and confirms my faith that things may be all right one day for gay people in the U.S. of A. The Massachusetts legislature shot the proposed anti-gay amendment down by a vote of 157 to 39.
In an unrelated story, in Kentucky recently, a man walked into a classroom where his 14-year-old son was a student, took off his belt and gave the kid a beating. Right there in front of the teacher and the kid’s peers. In Kentucky, apparently, the man broke no laws. This is a spare-the-rod, spoil-the-child part of the country, and the father, apparently, was upset that the boy’s older brothers had "gone bad" and needed to prevent further decay in the family.
We are a federation of semi-autonomous states – something hard for the French, the Japanese, and many others to fathom – so we have these differences in values mirrored in our laws. In Massachusetts, the majority of non-gay people have now come to see their gay marrying neighbors as just plain folk whose desire to build their own strong families works with, not against, a broader social desire for strength and stability. A positive notion worthy of support. Biblical notions of the patriarchal family are giving way to Enlightenment notions of the nurturing family. In Kentucky, where support for patriarchal authority holds more sway, things are different.
This doesn’t explain all there is to explain about the culture wars, of course, and it’s more complex than a conflict between red and blue values. But I suspect Massachusetts is leading a national trend toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, and my guess is, at the national level, a majority of Americans will see the Kentucky father’s response to his kid’s misbehavior as woefully inappropriate. Me and my bleedin’ heart liberal friends want to call it child abuse – more psychological than physical, actually, when you consider what this will do to the kid’s sense of self-respect in the eyes of his peers. I don’t think we’re out of tune here with the rest of our fellow Mericans. If I’m right and you can put the two together as head-and-tail events on the national level, there is cause for some degree of optimism.
Meanwhile, moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, also in the news today is a progress report on the Vatican’s plan to root out gays from its priesthood. Benedict XVI speaks of the need to "purify" the church. What a show these guys put on. In a world of ambiguity, what purity there is is in the church’s pure bigotry. 80% of the child abusers, it turns out, abused boys. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of people who like sex with their own sex are not child abusers. Never mind that the church provides a formula for dysfunctionality by teaching young boys their same-sex urges are sinful and then offering them a haven in the priesthood where they won’t have to explain their lack of interest in girls, and where they will never deal with their sexual confusions except to further repress them. Never mind that priests have altar boys, not altar girls, junior seminarian priests, not junior novice nuns as constant companions. Never mind all the other possible explanations why there are adults taking advantage of children, and this "step in the right direction" doesn't begin to address the 20% of priests who abused little girls. And never mind that the bigger problem in the church has been its inclination to protect its clergy and hang the kids out to dry.
Imagine in this day and age looking at the crime rate among blacks in the inner city and concluding the way to deal with it is to keep all black people from moving into "our" neighborhood. It still happens, but not like it once did because we have come to understand racism a whole lot better than we did. Benedict and Company have yet to learn this lesson. He’s going for the good folk as well as the bad folk with equal zeal. So much for "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner" rhetoric. It’s "review each of the 229 Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States for ‘evidence of homosexuality,’" not evidence of child abusers.
There is a bright side in all this. This might be a good time to rifle through the dumpsters of your local catholic seminary for tapes and record collections of Judy Garland and Maria Callas, tailored shirts, kick-ass shoes and killer appetizer recipes.
September 15, 2005