Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chicago Free Press Editorial - Anti-gay season

Chicago Free Press Editorial - Anti-gay season
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press
August 24, 2006

If you’ve ever wondered why anti-gay hate crimes seem to spike around elections, just listen to the rhetoric surrounding gay marriage every time America heads to the polls. With an upcoming election that could radically alter the political landscape from the nation’s state houses to Capitol Hill, voters might reasonably expect a vibrant debate about the direction of the country. But with a little more than two months to go before Election Day, they’re mostly getting the usual dose of negative campaigning and gay-bashing.

Unfortunately, it’s not just political candidates on the homophobic right who are diminishing our humanity. The targets of the far-right’s gay-bashing campaign tactics are hardly providing a vigorous response. Instead, they’re working overtime to convince conservatives that they’re also against same-sex marriage, while at the same time trying to hold on to progressive voters by appearing to be less against it than the opposition.

In many ways, the situation mirrors the communist-baiting of the McCarthy Era. Far too many of those who were targeted by McCarthy’s despicable smear campaigns focused their response on defending their patriotism rather than promoting the American values of free speech and association. Almost absent from the mainstream debate about McCarthyism was the argument that people in a democracy have a right to hold unpopular political beliefs.

Similarly, targets of today’s gay-baiting right wing are so afraid of being personally branded as “anti-family” that they sacrifice the larger issues of social justice involved in the same-sex marriage debate. They trot out their belief that marriage is “between a man and a woman” and, in doing so, further the perception that gays and lesbians are a destructive social force.

Typical is what happened last week in the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary. Candidate Tom Gallagher released an attack ad that, among other things, accused his opponent, attorney general Charlie Crist, of supporting gay unions.

Having been tossed this political hot potato, Crist responded meekly, “I don’t oppose them,” and went on to remind Floridians that he does support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Candidates who are supposed to be allies of the GLBT community are not above using their opponents’ harsh anti-gay rhetoric against them even while maintaining a “safe” position such as Crist’s.

Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate last week dredged up a five-month-old radio interview with his opponent’s running mate in which she compared same-sex marriage with bestiality. Democrat Bill Ritter’s campaign manager called Jena Rowland’s remarks “insensitive, close-minded, derogatory and crude.” He said they show “just how far to the right and out-of-touch the (opposition) ticket really is.”

But Ritter does not support same-sex marriage either. “I support the existing state law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman,” he told a political website.

The worst thing about this political cowardice is that it’s so unnecessary at this political juncture. Right-wingers are wrong in thinking they can use homophobia to detract from the unpopular and costly war in Iraq. The vast majority of voters are not more concerned that the lesbian couple next door might gain access to each other’s pensions than they are about global warming, the crises in education and health care, the sputtering economy and the burgeoning national deficit.

Still, few political candidates are willing to take a gay-supportive stance and the bashing continues.


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