Monday, April 20, 2009

The Gathering Storm...


On April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision (Varnum v. Brien, 07-1499) holding that the prohibition of gay marriage violated the equal protection guarantees of the Iowa State Constitution. This decision has been hailed as a model of clarity; the fact that it was also unanimous has gone a long way towards discrediting the notion that an “activist” court “found” a right to gay marriage that does not exist in the state constitution. In addition, the court held that gay persons comprise a “quasi-suspect” class for the purpose of state equal protection analysis, and that any law discriminating against gay persons much be subjected to “quasi-strict” scrutiny (or intermediate-level review). Quasi-strict scrutiny requires that any law impacting the group in question (in this case, gay persons) must be demonstrated, by the state, to be substantially related to an important government objective. This court followed the examples set by the state high courts of Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut in finding that the respective state constitutions prohibited the denial of marriage to gay couples (sadly, the California decision was reversed in November by a state constitutional amendment). Shortly after this decision was handed down, Vermont became the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage as a result of legislative action (as opposed to prompting by a state high court); the state legislature of Vermont voted, overwhelmingly, to legalize gay marriage, overriding the Republican governor’s veto in the process.

The states of Maine and New Hampshire are currently debating this issue, and it is clear to thinking persons that it is now only a matter of time before activists for marriage equality succeed in extending equal marriage rights to gay persons in other states. Other states where gay marriage is expected to be recognized in the near future include New York and New Mexico; New York governor David Patterson has just introduced a bill that would legalize gay marriage in that state. In addition, the District Council in Washington, DC voted to recognize the validity of gay marriages entered into in those jurisdictions where gay marriage is legal; this means that a gay couple who marry in Connecticut will be recognized as married should they move to Washington, DC.

In response to this movement in the direction of marriage equality, those men and women who continue to argue that gay persons should not be permitted to marry have formed an organization named the “National Organization for Marriage” (a truly bizarre misnomer, given the fact that this organization’s remit is to prevent gay persons from marrying in those states where gay marriage is not yet recognized). Maggie Gallagher – a right-wing shill who has attacked gay marriage for many years now – sits as the President of this organization, which recently produced an advertisement named “The Gathering Storm”. This advertisement has been screened throughout New England (where gay rights activists are expending considerable energy in their campaign to legalize gay marriage), in the hope of swaying members of the public to pressure their elected representatives to vote against gay marriage.

What is remarkable about this advertisement is its comical, over-the-top, desperate atmosphere. Instead of presenting the viewers with a sober assessment of the state of gay marriage at the present time, this advertisement literally shows lightning strikes in the background and massive purple clouds brewing in the sky, as ham actors, pretending to be members of the public, talk about how “afraid” they are of gay marriage, and about how their personal and private lives have been ruined as a direct result of the legalization of gay marriage! This advertisement is actually funny – which it most certainly was not intended to be by those who produced it! Even more amusing is the fact that this advertisement cost about $1.5 million to produce! Those viewers who have seen this advertisement on YouTube (where it has been featured for several days now) overwhelmingly mock, belittle, and laugh at this production. A quick sampling of the comments posted on YouTube reveal that at least 80% of the comments ridicule and denigrate this advertisement – surely not something that Maggie Gallagher and her cohorts intended! As if this weren’t bad enough, numerous spoofs of this advertisement have been produced on YouTube – spoofs that have literally caused activists for marriage equality to roll around on the floor with laughter!

Frank Rich, writing in the New York Times, has pointed out that this advertisement represents the best and only effort of those who continue to oppose gay marriage; while Gallagher and her cronies try to attack gay couples with this inane joke, the mainstream media have pretty much ignored the developments in Iowa and Vermont, barely mentioning them in network newscasts. Those references to gay marriage that have been made by the mainstream media have largely been neutral, or even positive, in their description of these developments. A large number of actors have produced their own spoofs of “The Gathering Storm”, literally smothering this pathetic attempt at stoking the flames of bigotry and hatred with a blanket of cackling laughter.

What is truly amazing about this advertisement is the fact that the "National Organization for Marriage" paid such a massive sum of money to produce such a ludicrous and amusing spectacle.

Maggie, Maggie, what has become of you?

As Frank Rich pointed out, this is truly “The Bigots Last Hurrah”. Rich notes that support for gay marriage and opposition to gay marriage are both largely generational – and it is the older generation that opposes gay marriage. Population dynamics make it clear that the number of supporters will continue to rise, just as the number of opponents will continue to fall. Put bluntly, older people die, whereas younger people grow up and replace older people, carrying forward their more enlightened attitudes and convictions.

The movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” contained a scene that is emblematic of the current state of gay marriage in the US. The protagonist, Joshua Waitzkin, plays against another child prodigy towards the end of the movie. Several moves deep into the game, Joshua’s opponent makes a fatal mistake, which is obvious only to those grandmasters who possess sufficient knowledge and insight into the game to appreciate the nature of this player’s mistake. Joshua spots the mistake, and offers his opponent a draw, telling him “You’ve already lost. You just don’t know it yet.”

And so it is for the "National Organization for Marriage".

The game is over. All that remains to be seen is whether those who continue to oppose gay marriage will insist on dragging their defeat and humiliation out for as long as possible, or whether they will acknowledge that they are beaten, and climb on board. All signs now are that the more intelligent and well-connected members of the right (including ex Presidential hopeful John McCain’s chief strategist) have already seen the end coming, and have decided to climb on board.

Let us behave with a degree of class that they have not shown, and sincerely welcome them.


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