America’s Largest Circulation Gay Newsweekly

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 345 | November 4 – November11, 2004


Taking Stock

In a very personal way—that is both visceral and profoundly spiritual—this week has been painful.

Leveraging off the genuine fears and anxieties that the events of September 11 unleashed, George W. Bush waged a successful re-election campaign that managed to paper over the enormous tragedy of his misplaced and misguided folly in Iraq. As insurance against the risk that his most fervent right-wing supporters might exhibit some measure of complacency, the president skillfully baited the gay and lesbian community with his posturing about changing the U.S. Constitution. Meanwhile, his minions launched offensives against us in 11 state constitutional amendment battles that left our community knocked upside the head in a big way.

The difficult truth with which to reckon is that in a society as affluent and sophisticated as ours the political system was unable to produce an alternative vision for this nation that could move America past the failed presidency that began four years ago.

The nation today is full of would-be Alec Baldwins, threatening to leave a country that is so misguided, but almost certain in fact to stick around, hopefully, to fight another day.

It is of course easy to make a list of all the things that John Kerry did wrong. He equivocated so long—and so inartfully—about the tragedy in Iraq that it was very difficult for him to connect with voters and convince them that he is actually a seasoned and nuanced expert on foreign relations.

And like every Democratic presidential nominee since Walter Mondale—save Bill Clinton—Kerry seemed uncomfortable in his progressive—dare I say, liberal—skin. Kerry opposes same-sex marriage, and I am not prepared to make the argument that he would have done better politically by supporting it. But, I have a nagging suspicion that if you asked a lot of voters who supported Bush what they thought Kerry’s position on gay marriage was, they would have said they feared he might be willing to go along with it. Yet, Kerry’s mention of gay issues in the debate—invoking Mary Cheney when asked if homosexuality were a choice and issuing a very cryptic warning in an earlier debate against changing the Constitution—may well have come off as defensive and not altogether forthcoming to those wary of him in the first place.

My point is not that the issue of gay marriage was in any way definitive in the minds of many voters. I am trying instead to get at a basic stumbling block that many liberals and progressives encounter in today’s political discourse—they are wary and tentative about making straightforward appeals based on certain sensitive social justice and economic equity questions. But their leanings are abundantly clear to voters in any event and their caution is seen as waffling. They lose both ways—they are faulted for having an unpopular view and they are mistrusted for not coming clean.

And that dilemma links Kerry’s problems on gay rights back to the hurdle he faced in establishing his credibility on the issue of the Iraq war. For too long, his posture was neither fish nor fowl—and meanwhile the Bush camp had a field day with cartoonish ads about him windsurfing to catch the prevailing breezes.

The aftermath of Kerry will no doubt spark enormous intra-party squabbling about where the Democrats are headed, and as that takes place the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender needs to re-think its own course.

Our community was among the big losers this week. In the year since Massachusetts launched the current wave of same-sex marriage fervor, 13 states have moved to bar our unions in their constitutions, joining several that acted earlier. Cheryl Jacques, the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, in acknowledging the losses, argued, “The question was called too early” and that many voters didn’t understand that by supporting state constitutional amendments they may have closed the door to other legal rights for gay couples, including civil unions and even limited domestic partnership rights.

In the sense that our community was not prepared for what hit us on election day, Jacques is right—the question was called too early. But, with all due respect to her and other community leaders, we need to own up to the fact that all of this backlash came in response to a victory we initiated in Massachusetts.

And that’s the hard truth we face as we move into another winter. Our community has made tremendous strides and shown remarkable courage in the face of hostility and indifference. And we need to do a lot more.

Songwriter Paul Simon, years ago, described watching the “Statute of Liberty sail away to sea… in the age’s most uncertain hour” as he sang an “American Tune.” At the conclusion of his mournful lament, he writes, “But it’s all right, it’s all right/ You can’t be forever blessed/ Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day/ And I’m trying to get some rest/ That’s all I’m trying to get some rest.”

So, let’s us all pause and rest. And remember, that tomorrow is another working day.

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