Sharpen your number two pencils, faithful readers. It’s time for a midsummer pop quiz.
During the Senate’s messy floor fight over the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), which lawmaker rose to exclaim, “Gay people have a right to be free, to not be discriminated against. They have a right to live in their relationships within the privacy of their own homes, just like others who have different approaches toward life”?
If you guessed Ted Kennedy, you can be forgiven, but you’re wrong. It was Senator Orrin Hatch: Mormon, conservative, Republican of Utah, and co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Now try this one: “I make no apology for supporting many of the needs of gay and lesbian Americans. Issues of public safety, housing, employment, benefits: these are rights that we take for granted, rights which many of them have felt out of reach. Americans… want to say to gays and lesbians that we love you, we include you, we care about you.”
Dianne Feinstein? Hillary Clinton? Wrong again. No, that sparkling gem was from Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon. Smith has of late become a darling of the Human Rights Campaign, but he was nonetheless among the FMA’s supporters.
Never before have so many bigots said so many nice things about gay men and lesbians. Judging by their oratorical gymnastics, Republicans are as concerned about keeping their fraying domestic Coalition of the Willing together as they are about their imaginary one overseas. Just how to appease the foam-at-the-mouth, “God Hates Fags” types while not offending all those suburban soccer moms is turning into a complicated game of political Twister. Especially when you’re not sure which states are red and which are blue.
It’s a good thing Hatch and his friends have forked tongues—they can simultaneously stick them up the asses of the religious right and the bloc of undecided voters. Majority Leader Bill Frist still wants to turn you into a second-class citizen—he just wants to do it in the nicest possible way. Why, this week, he even dropped his opposition to civil unions!
“There’s a balancing act going on, and they’re trying to have it both ways,” said Freedom to Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson, whose name got kicked around the Senate floor by right-wingers last week. “Even the ones who are capitulating [to conservatives] feel the need to wrap their extremism in gauzy terms because they know it’s not where they need to be down the road. And they’ve had to concede some of our premises.”
Meanwhile, some Democrats have evolved into creatures resembling vertebrates, and for once stood up on their hind legs rather than rolling over and playing dead.
“This is gay bashing, plain and simple,” observed New Jersey’s Democratic Frank Lautenberg during the week’s most impassioned homo-friendly speech. “This amendment is picking on productive members of our society, people who… want to raise their families and contribute to their communities…. [I]t is shameful.”
And California’s Barbara Boxer wondered aloud, “What is more a threat to you—Al Qaeda moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in America… or two people who happen to be of the same gender moving in together down your street?”
Sadly, if you are George W. Bush, the answer is unclear. His political calculus is all about which war will benefit him more: the one on terror, or the one on us. The good news for his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, is that neither war is guaranteed to help the president.
Arch-conservatives, including FMA co-sponsor Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, continue to believe that even after the bill’s resounding defeat, gay marriage is a winner for the GOP, and those Americans given the chance this November to vote for state amendments banning same-sex marriage—there are eleven—will automatically pop out a chad for Bush and Cheney, too. Blind with rage over Heather’s two mommies, Americans are supposed to forget all about Iraq, the job they lost so long ago that their unemployment benefits have expired, and the health insurance they can’t afford. Even some lefties are fearful that the issue will do more harm to Kerry than Bush.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, had a more cogent analysis.
“The rabid, reactionary, religious right has rarely looked more ridiculous,” he alliterated during the debate on the FMA. “They have a sufficient stranglehold on the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress to force the issue to a vote… in a desperate effort to arouse their narrow-minded constituency and somehow gain an advantage in the elections this year. My guess is their strategy will boomerang and that vastly more Americans will be turned off than are turned on….”
Indeed, the issue’s appeal has largely eluded the public. Poll after poll indicates same-sex marriage has no traction with voters, even Bible-thumping conservatives—even while men are laying down with men in marital bliss on Cape Cod. Still, Freedom to Marry’s Wolfson admits gay foes can use it to score points.
“Short-term they may be in step with some of the resistance,” he said. “It’s going to vary from place to place. [But] in the long term, it’s a disaster for them. They are increasingly out of step with the center.”
And Kevin Cathcart, the executive director of Lambda Legal, which is pursuing marriage recognition lawsuits in states across the country, added, “In any civil rights movement, no group has gotten more than they’ve asked for. We should not back away from keeping this discussion going. Visibility will continue to grow support for recognition of our relationships. Even Rick Santorum will shut up when he thinks a significant bloc of voters are tired of hearing about this: he’s as committed to being a political survivor as he is to being a hero on this issue.”
Santorum’s congressional allies have not yet reached that point. As soon as the FMA failed, the House rushed forward with a measure barring federal courts from reviewing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which many observers believe could be vulnerable to challenge on constitutional grounds.
But there is good news for Kerry (and our community) in all this—the Republican Party is at war with itself over the issue, which has caused unheard-of dissension among its ranks. While seven Republican moderates deserted the party on last week’s cloture vote, there was even less support for the amendment itself, with Republicans like John Warner of Virginia, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and John Sununu of New Hampshire on record against it.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, no Republican was echoing Gordon Smith’s “We Love You” speech, and it was open season on gays. No sooner had Kerry selected North Carolina’s Senator John Edwards as his running mate than he was dubbed the “Breck Girl” by the Bush campaign, a moniker operatives pounded on as if they were bullies on a playground. And Matt Drudge ran a pictorial on his blog illustrating how the two Democrats couldn’t keep their hands off one another on the campaign trail.
Conservatives like the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, shut out of prime-time speaking spots at the convention by faggot-loving Republicans like George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, cried foul. So to butch up his live-and-let-live image on same-sex marriage, the Governator accused home-state Democratic lawmakers holding his budget hostage of being “girlie-men.” It’s back to politics as usual: the dysfunctional, gay-baiting, Republican Party family.
Everyone’s favorite dysfunctional Republican family, the Cheneys, have been busy, too—Papa continued to sell out his own daughter for the sake of his political career, backtracking on his objection to the FMA in order to keep his views in line with his those of his boss, while Mama staged a repudiation of her husband’s position on “Larry King Live” in the hopes of keeping moderates on board. And daughter Mary, Papa’s campaign manager, who used to mouth off about her sexuality for Coors to make a buck kept mum.
Boxer was quick to use the Cheney’s political spat to score some points during the FMA debate. “This constitutional amendment is divisive to this country. It even divided Lynne Cheney from Dick Cheney,” she noted.
Tired of being a political pincushion for the likes of San Francisco liberals like Boxer, the Cheneys decided to bare all for C-SPAN later that week—and they didn’t even have to be nice about gays.
When the subject turned to why Cheney believed the issue of same-sex marriage was worthy of federal intervention, Dick clarified his flip-flopping—it was all the president’s idea.
But then he mumbled, “Historically, this is a matter that has been regulated by the states. Having the states do it is another way to approach it.”
Another way, indeed.
Mr. Vice President, go perform an anatomically impossible act.
Andrew Miller can be reached at AndrewNYC@aol.com.