Tuesday, October 09, 2012

What's Behavior Got To Do With It?

Tony sent me this link to a New York Times profile on 80 year old Chuck Bennett. He lives in Maine and is part of that state's (second) attempt to allow same-sex couples to marry at the polls. The piece is not a little bit heartbreaking, and also reinforces the value of standing up and being visibly counted. Mr Bennett was kicked out of the Navy for homosexuality and the only way he knew he wasn't alone back then were reports of police vice squads arresting men for "obscene" behavior. He laments being "born 50 years too early".

His elderly roommate, however, who wonders why gays are so determined to ape hetero conventions such as marriage. “How can somebody like me, who has made a significant investment in inventing an alternative world, come around to accept gay marriage?” he asked, clarifying that he supports the referendum.

It's something I've personally struggled with, especially after recently finishing a book called The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture. Current movements to out-bore the straights at their own game feel almost self-cancelling, an obsequious bow, a feverish bout of Stockholm Syndrome, but at the same time - if I have a foreign lover and want to live in the US with him? Hospital visitation, joint federal returns, inheritance and estate taxes? These are more important for me, but if you simply want the typical, time-honored celebration, recognition, dignity... go on! You should have that right.

My reticence on the matter was blown away when I heard someone say (was it in a column? Or the magnificent documentary We Were Here?) marriage equality is a mandate. Some kind of a bone thrown to the memory of all the men who died, unremarked, of AIDS, because politicians, Reagan and polite society didn't consider them equal and thus care enough to fund the research necessary to contain the virus when it could have been contained.

I also caught an incredible symposium at NYU law school with Ted Olson and David Boies, the litigators who argued against the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, and won. Rachel Maddow moderated and they spoke of what the Supreme Court might ultimately decide, and how it almost goes without saying that such cases are against popular opinion. Almost without exception, when put to a vote, the majority will vote against minority rights. The question this court has, and everyone knows which way the wind is blowing, is: will they be Plessy vs. Ferguson, or will they be Brown vs Board of Education? We shall soon see if the Supreme Court wasn't born 50 years too early.

I found it particularly interesting their point (and I've brought this up before, as even gays clash in our attempts to put our best face forward and silence those of us who don't) that you can still be a death row inmate and marry. What's behavior got to do with it? Behavior's just a second-hand emotion!

Interestingly, Ted Olson also is a Republican. In fact, he's now coaching Paul Ryan for Thursday's VP debate. When pressed by Maddow, Olson acknowledges the disconnect, but says this kind of dialogue (he plays Biden in the prep room) is necessary, and the only thing that has and will change minds. He also mentions personal responsibility, and thus marriage equality, is a conservative value in his "Party of Lincoln" (no comment on how Lincoln's party has been wholly hijacked by the religious right) and that nobody cheers for politics.
I've no idea how to justify the conflicts and contradiction in Olson. Behavior has nothing to do with marriage rights, but it has everything to do with character and in Olson's case - a fascinating one. As one poster commented, this symposium should be required viewing for civics class in the USA.

1 comment:

Tony said...

Alright Jesse!
You're right. Gay people shouldn't have to mute their fabulousness just to receive rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution. As you point out, the majority can try to negate the rights of minorities. But the due process and equal protection clauses in the 5th and 14th Amendments are there precisely to protect against that. That's the heart of Olsen's and Boies's argument.
The only thing I can figure about Olsen being a Republican is that, as is true for some of them, there's a strong libertarian streak in their thinking, which over-rides but doesn't eliminate adherence to the rest of the Republican platform. Cognitive dissonance anyone?