Wherein I explain the basis for my views on gay rights, and why this issue is different than most other political issues of our day

During my final year as an undergraduate, I had an experience that has deeply affected my view on social politics.  At the time, it immediately reinforced my position on one particular issue, but over time my reaction to this incident has colored my view on many political debates, and my political outlook more broadly.  I will be the first to admit my bias, and I am biased against certain conservative religious activists.  This story will explain why.

I was fortunate in the Spring of 2004 to secure an internship with my state senator, Ernesto Scorsone.  Scorsone represented the northern half of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, and was viewed as a liberal member of the caucus.  The job was intensive, frenetic, and endlessly satisfying for a 21 year old with boundless energy and optimism.  The year prior to my internship, Scorsone had also finally made public what many long knew; he became Kentucky’s first openly gay senator.

If you can think back to 2004, that was the year of the marriage ballot initiatives.  In many states, religious conservatives were sponsoring constitutional amendments to specifically ban gay marriage.  As both a gay legislator and a liberally minded one, Scorsone vigorously opposed the measure, but in conservative Kentucky, it seemed fated to pass.

On one particular day during the session, the bill’s supporters came to rally from all over the state.  Churches sponsored buses to bring hundreds of activists to bear, and they crowded the Frankfort Capitol to demand passage “in the defense of marriage.”

In my mind’s eye I can still see these folks, best described as an angry mob.  They cloaked their views as being pro-family and pro-tradition, but we all knew why they were there.  They both hated and feared homosexuality and homosexuals, and saw in the gradual societal acceptance of gays and lesbians a challenge to their established worldview.  This group brought to mind the quote of William James, “A  great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

In retrospect, it is clear to me that in Ernesto Scorsone they saw a fitting object for their hatred.  A gay man, a liberal, representing a community largely comprised of minorities.  As Scorsone’s only intern during that term, I was easily identified with him, and felt their venom directed at me, also.

During the course of the day, I would frequently run messages back and forth between the Senate and the Assembly, whose respective chambers book-ended the main hall of the Capitol.  Each time, I had to pass through this mob, listening to their insults, their paranoia on full display, their fear and hate made more urgent and more extreme by their numbers.

In the early afternoon, as I was navigating a path through this crowd on my way back to the Senate chamber, an older man in need of both a laundering and a dentist leaned close to me and said “you people make me sick!”  As I moved to pass him, he spit at me, a large goober that thankfully missed my face, but spoiled my tie.

I spent the balance of the day defiant, giving an interview to the local newspaper and trying, though in futility, to use this incident to highlight why the bill was misguided.  It was a day of high passion and drama, and it has left a mark on my political outlook that persists to this day.

Never before have constitutions been amended to specifically deny rights to a group of people.  The “debate” about gay rights is not really a debate at all: it is and has always been a core civil rights issue, perhaps the only issue our parents’ generation left virtually untouched for ours to tackle.  Gay marriage does not cheapen straight marriage.  It does not deny people their religious beliefs.  If a church decides to refuse to conduct gay marriages in its facility, it can do so, as many churches refuse to participate in inter-faith unions.  However, a government that permits adults to enter into a special legal relationship with their chosen partner should not be in the business of withholding that right from certain classes of people.

During the next generation, young people will ask us incredulously if we remember when being anti-gay was commonplace among politicians, and was a socially acceptable thing to be.   Make no mistake- those who would deny gays and lesbians equal rights in any area of the law are not pro-family, pro-religion, or pro-anything else.  They are anti-gay.  As a court in Los Angeles recently opined, there is no rational basis at all for denying equal rights to gays and lesbians simply because of their sexuality.

As I hope I have made perfectly clear, I have very strong views on this topic, and it is perhaps the only political issue on which I will not “agree to disagree.”  It is both moral and political, and on this one there are no fuzzy boundaries.  To co-opt the ultimatum usually used by conservatives, you’re either with us, or you’re against us.

The 2004 incident in Frankfort has also colored my view in general of religious conservatives in the US South.  It played a significant role in my decision to relocate after college to California, which has a reputation for being more accepting and less religiously fervent.  To be sure, there are thoughtful religious conservatives, and while I may disagree with their positions, they can at least articulate them well.  They were not in evidence on that Spring day in Frankfort.  Rather, the people I observed appeared as a stereotypical and stereotyping angry mob.  They were incited by political leaders who told them what to think and made their legislative proposal fit neatly into the mob’s preconceived worldview.

I perceived a great deal of hatred and venom resting just beneath the surface of these conservatives, and it only took a carefully stated wedge issue to bring it out in force.  I see echoes of this in many people’s response to Barack Obama, to Nancy Pelosi, to the new health care law, to the deficit proposal.  They do not oppose things or debate things; they hate things.  They yell, and curse, and spit to make their passion felt.  I fear for what this active and angry minority would do if directly incited to violence.

Gradually, I believe education and what Thomas Friedman calls “the flattening of the world” will erode the strength of the narrow-minded, as exposure to the broader world of diverse people breeds acceptance and understanding.  It cannot happen quickly enough.


Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I hope to be reading more of your political views on here in the future

  2. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Well said Andrew.

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