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Prevailing Winds

Recently, President Barack Obama made history as being the first sitting U.S. President to endorse same-sex marriage. This might not be a big deal for some – he’d always hinted that he was leaning in that direction and being as liberal as he is, it comes as no surprise that he would share this viewpoint.

However for those in the Gay and Lesbian community, it is a big deal. To have a political leader of this echelon supporting their cause in this arena is a big boost. Just a little bit of hope, after all, can inspire one to work harder and it seems to me the battle to allow same sex marriage is only beginning.

Of course, one has to look at the circumstances regarding the President’s announcement. This is also the first time in history that polls have shown that Americans in general support same-sex marriage, which gives the political impetus for someone running for re-election to use that as part of their platform. Only a few years ago the overwhelming majority of Americans were against allowing same-sex marriage so the change in the prevailing winds of opinion have shifted significantly.

There is also the timing of the North Carolina state legislature’s bill not only denying same sex couples the right to marry but also the right to a civil union which most states have yet to do. One would hardly expect differently from the state that gave us Jesse Helms, after all.

My stance on the subject has already been dealt with in another blog and I’ll leave it at that for the most part, other than to say that I continue to assert that I don’t think it is the bailiwick of politicians to meddle in religious subjects any more than I think it is the right of the clergy to meddle in political subjects. The two are supposed to be kept separate in our society and yet we continue to see that line blurred, not only on the same-sex marriage topic but also on things like stem cell research and abortion.

I’m beginning to see two Americas; the religious right on one side growing more conservative, continuing to push their agenda based on Christian morality. Not that I have anything against Christian morals – I very much endorse Jesus’ admonition to love one another – but I do think my interpretation of what Christ had in mind is far different than the conservative Christian interpretation.

The other America is the secular left, who are pushing their own agenda based on their own precepts. I don’t feel it necessary to ridicule religion, as Bill Maher often does, but I do think it is important that there be a definition of the place of religion in American society.

That doesn’t mean that as Roman Catholic as I am, I  want the Catholic bishops making policy. After all, these are the same men who chose to cover up numerous instances of pedophilia within their own ranks and while the Southern Baptist Convention hasn’t quite the same sad record as the Catholics, I find them just as undesirable as policy-makers. I would much rather that they stick to religious matters than those that are secular. Render that to Caesar which is Caesar, after all.

It is pleasing to see that Americans finally seem to be leaning towards allowing same-sex marriage. I believe the high profile of gay people like Ellen deGeneres and Jane Lynch have given a face to gay couples to an American public who perhaps needed to see gays as people. For those in Mid-America and in the Bible belt where same-sex couples are less prevalent, I believe that it’s an eye-opener. Some see lesbians as primarily butch man-haters and gays as catty mincing queens, both images largely a product of movies and television. While both sorts exist, there are even more who are as ordinary and as normal as anyone else other than in their sexual orientation. Hopefully as Americans get to see gays and lesbians in that light, their innate compassion may yet override their fear and distrust.

I believe that discrimination is wrong, no matter how it’s gone about and who is its victim. Preventing two people who love each other the same privileges and rights that two different people who love each other enjoy is just plain wrong. If a church chooses not to marry people of the same sex on moral grounds, that is their right as a religious institution. If a state chooses to prevent people from the same sex from marrying by enacting laws to do so, it is discriminating against gays and lesbians and those laws are therefore unconstitutional. In many states, it used to be just as illegal for people of different races to marry and those laws were eventually taken off the books. I believe that years from now, we will look at these laws defining marriage in very much the same way.

For those who say that interracial marriage is a different basket of cats from same-sex marriage, let me give you this – interracial marriage was opposed for years on moral grounds and those who opposed it often used biblical sources as the reason for their opposition. Laws banning interracial marriage were supported by the clergy, who saw African-Americans as less than human and a marriage between an African-American and a white person to be an abomination. There are some in these parts who still do.

I hope these attitudes towards gay people are changing. I think it’s high time they did. Our national self-image is that we are an inclusive people – you know, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” It is easy to be inclusive when the person is just like you. It is when including someone who challenges your beliefs that that inclusion becomes more critical. Agreeing that gay people should be allowed to be married isn’t endorsing homosexuality – it’s endorsing humanity. It’s doing the right thing.

The institution of marriage won’t be destroyed by allowing gay people to share in the joys and responsibilities of marriage – I believe the institution is far stronger than that, and if it isn’t then it needs to be destroyed anyway. I think the institution of marriage is destroyed by preventing people from benefitting from it. It’s destroyed by turning it into a political matter rather than a romantic one.

The winds of change blow us from all directions and it can be difficult sometimes to know which way to turn; whether to face the wind and challenge it or turn our backs to it and let it blow us as it will. For my part, it gives me hope that even though there is so much wrong with this country that it sometimes seems like we’ll never be able to “fix” it, that there are indications that there is nothing wrong with the heart of Americans. Maybe that will be enough to carry us through any storm after all.


Bully Market


First of all, let’s get one thing straight; bullying is the route of cowards. It is a function of ignorance and fright, the refuge of those who, deep down, are terrified that they don’t measure up, or that they are what they fear most. There is nothing good or positive about bullying and I fully support any reasonable effort to eradicate it.

 That said, I have to respectfully but emphatically disagree with Ellen DeGeneres and Anderson Cooper in how they’re going about it. For those who are unaware, they expressed their displeasure with the trailer (preview) for the movie The Dilemma. During the course of it, Vince Vaughn, one of the movie’s stars, is giving a business presentation of some sort during which he says “Electric cars are gay. Not homosexual gay, my parents chaperoning the dance gay.”

 Now, I’ve always been bothered by (mostly young males) referring to things as “gay” in a derogatory manner. I’ve always thought it ignorant, juvenile and insensitive in the same way that generally the same people refer to things as “retarded.” However, it is a free country that gives people the right to express themselves any way they wish to, and I took some comfort that the people who used such terms were, for the most part, idiots.

 However, on Ellen’s talk show, she and journalist Anderson Cooper, who are incidentally two people I respect very much, took the filmmakers and the studio to task for allowing that joke to appear in the trailer, particularly in light of recent events where several incidents of bullying of gays has led to tragedy. They both urged the studio to remove the joke from the trailer and expressed their displeasure. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have also urged the studio to remove the reference completely from the film.

 First of all, as anyone will tell you, I disagree strongly with “political correctness” in terms of limiting speech. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell you what you can and cannot say. The only limits should be situations where people can be hurt (such as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater) or intentionally using falsehoods to ruin the reputation of another (as in defamation of character or libel). The constitution allows us to express ourselves freely; it does not protect us from being offended. Frankly I think that being offended from time to time is a good thing; it gives us pause (or at least it does me) to examine why we are feeling offended and gives us license to examine our beliefs and, occasionally, making some changes.

 Now, I’m not advocating that one should start making derogatory remarks about others just to offend them; there is such a thing as courtesy and it should be used properly. However, I have to wonder that in the case of the trailer for The Dilemma that perhaps some well-meaning people are sending the wrong message.

 I don’t believe for a moment that excising the offending dialogue is going to give a single person who regularly uses gay as a pejorative any motivation to discontinue that behavior. What I do believe is that Cooper, DeGeneres and GLAAD are sending a message that the filmmakers can’t use the reference, even though they are seeing the dialogue out of context; even if the Vince Vaughn character may be the sort that regularly refers to things as gay (as many people do). It is a way of scolding the individual without dealing with the underlying behavior. Maybe the character will have reason to regret his use of the word “gay” later on in the film – personally I hope so but even if he doesn’t, even though he’s merely a character in a film he should still have the right to express himself inappropriately. I often see women referred to as “bitches” in movies and that’s just as inappropriate but just because it’s an unpleasant way of referring to women doesn’t mean that it should be barred from all film dialogue, any more than the word “gay” should be.

 After all, let’s face it; it’s a bit ironic for the homosexual community to be complaining about the use of a word which they essentially usurped. We all know that “gay” meant something completely different forty or fifty years ago than it does now. These days, we all snigger when the Flintstone theme song is played and the chorus sings “We’ll have a gay old time!” Words sometimes evolve over time; who knows, fifty years from now the word may end up being a deadly insult and gay men may commonly refer to themselves as “stylish” instead.

 Maybe the proper way to deal with the kind of negative reference is instead of dealing with it in a negative way (i.e. deleting it from movie dialogue) is to deal with it in a positive manner instead. If someone tells me that electric cars are gay, I respond “If by gay you mean stylish, economical, environmentally friendly and in general a better choice than what came before it, then it’s RuPaul on wheels. It’s an episode of Project: Runway in a steel chassis. Color me Jeff Gordon in a Prius.” What I’m trying to say is that words only have the power you allow them to have.

 However, it would be downright foolish of me not to acknowledge that words can sometimes contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance that can lead to bullying. I’m thinking that the battlefield for that is in the hearts and minds of potential bullies, not in the latest Vince Vaughn comedy. As far as putting an end to bullying – not only of gay people but of all people – I am proud to march alongside Ellen, Anderson, GLAAD and any others who feel the same way.

 The function of comics is to say things that can be outrageous and insensitive. Sometimes, it makes a point about societal behavior and sometimes it points out things in ourselves that are ugly. I don’t believe in limiting how comics express themselves because that is a slippery slope. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Lisa Lampanelli, Bill Maher, Will Durst or even commentators like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly say and there are times they say things that may be hurtful to some, but that is part of how the world works. I would never EVER presume to abridge anyone’s right to say something wrong, even if it is hateful, obscene or inflammatory. That’s against everything I believe in. So, yes, sometimes people will say things that I disagree with. Sometimes people will make jokes about overweight people that I find offensive or even hurtful. That’s all right.

 You don’t beat bullies by becoming one, and by saying “You will express yourself the way that I think you should express yourself, now remove that offensive line of dialogue because you are NOT ALLOWED to say it” is in fact being a bully, even though the cause be just. Saying something is gay demeans the one who says it more than the thing they’re referring to; by reacting to it the way that it has been reacted to ascribes further power to those who use the word that way and will only create a more difficult pathway in changing the behavior in the long run.

 That’s the goal, I think; to change the behavior of those who create an environment of bullying. You don’t change an environment by dictating terms; you change it with dialogue. You change it with love. You change it with humor. You change it by demonstrating how alike we are, not by reinforcing that we are unalike. You can stop bullying by showing bullies that while it is easy to tear down, it is far more rewarding to build up. It’s a far more positive means of dealing with the situation than by being negative – by telling people what they can’t do.

 Bullying has existed for a very long time in human history and, I suspect, is going to exist for a long time to come. I don’t know that we can ever truly eradicate it but I wouldn’t mind it if we did. I know bullying first hand, having been bullied for my ethnicity from elementary school through high school. I know how badly it made me feel, how much pain that was inflicted and how frustrated I felt. I can empathize with those who are in similar situations, whether it be for their own ethnic background, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs or simply the way they dress. Society, particularly among young people, wants us to fit in and those who don’t often pay the price. That’s something that should be addressed, but not by lashing out at a movie. There are far more effective ways to deal with it, and I hope that in the days and months to come, we will all stand up with the bullied and show compassion for the bullies (who are often victims of abuse and bullying themselves). In the end, that is how we show the best part of ourselves, and that’s something we can all agree on – and strive for.