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The Brilliance of Gay People, for All the World to See

Let me start with this kid, at the Supreme Court yesterday as DOMA was being argued.

(Doug Mills/The New York Times)

See the wedding ring on that blue finger? (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

He is brilliant, from his sign to his looks. This photo is an instant icon.

Meanwhile Edie Windsor has just been elected to the Divas’ Hall of Fame. And you thought only Gay guys belonged in there!

She walked out of the Supreme Court, flung her arms open wide and told the crowd, "I'm Edie Windson, an out Lesbian, who just sued the United States of America." (Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

She walked out of the Supreme Court, flung her arms open wide and told the crowd, “I’m Edie Windsor, an out Lesbian who just sued the United States of America!” (Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

Have you seen pictures of Edie and her wife Thea from the 1960s on? Gorgeous, both of them, their whole lives. Lipstick Lesbians before there even was such a thing!

Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed Mary Bonauto, the brilliant legal strategist with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders who led the attack on the Defense of Marriage Act and won the first lawsuit, in Massachusetts, establishing a Constitutional right for us to get married in 2003. “No gay person in this country would be married without Mary Bonauto,” said Roberta Kaplan, Edie Windsor’s lawyer who argued the case yesterday. Former Congressman Barney Frank said of Bonauto, “She’s our Thurgood Marshall.”

Mary Bonauto and her wife, a law school professor, are the parents of twin 11-year-old girls. (Craig Dilger/The New York Times)

Mary Bonauto “conceived of a strategy just like” Justice Marshall, the great Civil Rights attorney, Ms. Kaplan said. “It was strategically brilliant, and she succeeded. No one else can say that.” (Craig Dilger/The New York Times)

We owe these people a great debt. The Court won’t issue its ruling for another three months, and it seems likely to overturn DOMA on a narrow “states’ rights” interpretation rather than the “equal protection” basis we deserve. But a win is a win if we can get one, and the most important aspect of it will be its international impact, especially in Central Africa and Eastern Europe, countries where it is life-threatening to be Gay. Millions of people in future generations will benefit, without ever knowing who, what or how.

As for California’s Proposition 8, I’m expecting another narrow ruling, that the anti-Gay forces don’t have “standing” to appeal because they weren’t harmed by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s ruling overturning the referendum. If so, the Supremes will confine the decision to California, where Gay and Lesbian people will be able to marry again. But that win will be big, too.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker; he came out after issuing his decision against Prop. 8, though his friends had known he was Gay for quite some time. Like many judges, he didn't want his personal details to be seen as interfering with his objectivity. In the Prop. 8 trial, he asked hard questions of the pro-Gay side. (via Blue Truck, Red State)

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker; he came out after issuing his decision against Prop. 8, though his friends had known he was Gay for quite some time. Like many judges, he didn’t want his personal details to be seen as interfering with his objectivity. In the Prop. 8 trial, he asked hard questions of the pro-Gay side. (via Blue Truck, Red State)

Judge Walker was brilliant, conducting a full trial on same-sex marriage, where the homophobes’ case fell apart. Ted Olson and David Boies (Straight guys both), who argued for freedom before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, have not only been courageous, compassionate and skilled, their strategy of putting Prop. 8 on trial, which seemed risky to me and many others when it was first announced, has helped turn the tide of public opinion since 2008.

What fabulous work all these people have done! Yes, we still have to wait for the final results – but the shift in public opinion they’ve caused, with the help of thousands of others who’ve come out and organized, has already broken the back of fundamentalists in the United States, exposing their lies for everyone to see.

You don’t have to be a believer to shout, “Thanks be to God!”++

"Resurrection," carved alabaster, English, 15th century. Gay people were dead when I was born, but now we're alive. (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)

“Resurrection,” carved alabaster, English, 15th century. Gay people were all but dead and buried when I was a kid – but now we’re alive. (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)

These Republican Whigs & Know-Nothings

FreeVector-President-Washington

Washington was elected twice as an independent, but he favored a strong central government, which became the Federalists’ position. But some people are still fighting that notion today. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison secretly introduced the notion of state nullification to conventions in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Is the Republican Party disintegrating before our eyes? I think so, although it’s hard to make any sense of what’s currently going on in politics and no one can predict the future. But suppose it is; would that explain why we have total gridlock in Washington, a Congress with an approval rating of 9% and this series of self-inflicted financial crises over the “fiscal cliff,” the sequester and threats about not raising the debt ceiling?

Pundits don’t seem to know; after all, no one alive has seen a political party dissolve. We don’t know what the telltale signs are anymore – although parties do come and go, as the Whigs and Know-Nothings can attest.

History seems to show that a party goes belly-up when the nation rejects its policies, but its leaders aren’t capable of change. There just stops being a reason it exists anymore, so its members walk away and join other groupings. What are the signs this is happening to the GOP?

Take CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference just ended in suburban Maryland. Thousands of reporters were accredited to cover it from all over the world as if it were an important event, but it mostly turned out to be a circus. There was Mitch McConnell, who’s 71, in front of a roomful of activists who are 22, denouncing the Democrats’ frontrunners in 2016 as a rerun of the “Golden Girls” – despite those frontrunners’ being younger than he is. Hillary Clinton is 65 and Joe Biden is 69. Yuck-a-day!

It was slightly entertaining to watch McConnell deliver this line; he has no lips and apparently no teeth, but he almost broke out in a smile at his own utter hilarity.

The gals were fabulous - a concept McConnell knows nothing about.

These gals were fabulous – a concept McConnell knows nothing about.

Donald Trump gave a talk, which ranged from rambling to incoherent; his big criticism of Mitt Romney (last year’s failed Republican, in case you’ve forgotten already) was that he didn’t brag enough about how rich he is. American admire success, Trump said – which must be true because it’s the only reason anyone’s ever paid attention to him. The news was that nobody showed up to hear Trump deliver this pronouncement. I think Toupée Man has finally worn out his welcome.

DONALDTRUMPSAUDIENCE

When no one shows up for Trump, the end is near.

A few bored reporters generated some discussion of Sen. Rob Portman’s switch in favor of Gay marriage, two years after his son told him he’s Gay, but the only people excited about that were old people, interviewed here and there by obscure bloggers with videocams; the College Republicans who dominated the event mostly said Portman was right – if you asked them, because they weren’t talking about Rob Portman.

The weekend winner was Rand Paul, a nominal Republican who’s really a Libertarian. That party is likely to scoop up some Republicans if the collapse happens. Paul won the CPAC straw poll for President in 2016. He won’t win anything else, but he did win that.

A forum on broadening the party’s demographic base devolved into a White Power diatribe, with the featured speaker, K. Carl Smith of the Frederick Douglass Republicans, having to listen to a Tea Party activist who claimed that Whites have been “systematically disenfranched” by the U.S. government and that slaves ought to have thanked their masters for giving them food and shelter.

Not a good sign when you’re trying to broaden your base. Not a good sign a-tall!

The Tea Party in some version may try to organize itself as a post-Republican party, though after the spectacle of Dick Armey showing up with armed guards to clean out his desk at FreedomWorks (and pocket an $8 million settlement), it’s hard for me to see them as serious. Mother Jones magazine reported that FW paid radio talkers Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to extol the group on the air every week, which Armey opposed as not cost-effective and insulting to activists. The main beneficiary, Armey said, was FW’s president Matt Kibbe, who used staff members to write a book he profited from.

When political hustlers are in charge of the “grass roots,” there is no there there. So what’s to become of John Boehner?

Has there ever been a Speaker of the House like this guy? He reminds me of the Wizard of Oz after Toto’s pulled back the curtain. Boehner just keeps fiddling his dials and pumping the smoke machine as if nothing has happened amiss. He announced this weekend that mere election results aren’t going to change his policies; why would losing have anything to do with it?

John Boehner's role model.

John Boehner’s role model.

Someone smart pointed out recently that when the Democrats were in the doldrums back in the 1980s, losing the White House to Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, it took them three elections to right the ship – and then they turned to that “New Democrat” Bill Clinton, a Southern governor who “ended welfare as we know it.” If the party had gotten too liberal, which was the popular if mistaken diagnosis, Clinton arrived to clean things up. (And he did carry a Southern state or two.) Today, of course, the Republicans have only lost two in a row to Barack Obama (or three of the last four popular votes, if you count George W. Bush in 2000), and it may be that Republicans still have another loss to come before they change, if they do. If they make it that long. I’m not sure they will.

They have no obvious talent waiting in the on-deck circle, while it was clear back in 1988 that Bill Clinton was a comer. The few Republicans being talked about in 2016 all seem to have huge liabilities. Gov. Bobby Jindal is universally praised as intelligent, but his draconian policies in back-swamp Louisiana keep running afoul of the courts, and while he made a brief splash for telling Republicans they’ve got to stop being “the stupid party,” he didn’t propose anything smarter for national policies. He didn’t say global warming is real, let’s support marriage equality or open up a path to citizenship for immigrants, so it’s clear he either doesn’t have convictions or doesn’t have the courage of them.

Jeb Bush, the “smart one” of Barbara’s boys, is running around hemming and hawing about immigration – he’s for the pathway, he’s not for the pathway, “you have to understand we wrote that book (that just came out) last year” when we thought Romney would win – and saying he loves his brother W., he didn’t do anything wrong and Jeb is proud of him. Try selling that to voters!

lehmanbros

It’s true that Jeb can hardly say, “That son of a bitch, he screwed me for life,” but if he doesn’t say it, he’s screwed anyway. Bye, Jebber, you should never have let W. outrun you in 2000.

Marco Rubio, Jeb’s protegé, doesn’t know how to be the Republicans’ Great Hispanic Hope. If he endorses the pathway, he loses the nomination; if he doesn’t endorse it, he loses the election. (Besides, he ain’t that goodlooking.) And did you see him the other day at CPAC? No, he said, we don’t need new ideas, we still have a great idea – “It’s called America.”

That and eight bits might get you coffee. Or not.

As for Chris Christie, the only Republican popular with Democrats (and that won’t last), he wasn’t invited to CPAC. He hugged President Obama after Hurricane Sandy and that supposedly cost the Mittster the election.

So they invited the Mittster instead. No one knows why; CPAC was one collection of losers after another.

The moral of the story: when journalists outnumber activists, CPAC has peaked. (Most of the college kids were really just looking to get laid anyway.)

Maybe there will be a Republican who surprises us, a backbencher in Congress most likely; someone who finally gives up on Boehner, McConnell, sequesters and cliffs and government shutdowns, and strikes out on his or her own course. But if that were going to happen, I would think the gun safety debate would be the place for it to start. Polls show 91% of Americans favor universal background checks on gun purchases, but the only Republican senator who favors running all names through the computer is Mark Kirk of Illinois, who’s recovering from a major stroke. (He had to learn to walk again, and has made a good recovery.)

Every other Republican in Congress is plowing ahead as if nothing has changed. They’ll continue to obstruct, won’t pass any legislation and their big worry is that they’ll get “primaried” by a more conservative candidate – which led Lindsey Graham, better known as Senator Huckleberry, to announce he’s the proud owner of his very own assault weapon.

Lady Liberty is showing her tits again.

Lady Liberty is showing her tits again.

The jokes just write themselves.

As I said, I don’t own a crystal ball. They don’t work even if you own one. But we do know what causes a political party to crash. They insist on policies that are unpopular. They lack a strong leader. (Reince Priebus, anyone?) They prove incapable of altering their strategy, tactics or campaign techniques. They lose favor with young voters and are opponents of change, which happens whether they like it or not; see Gay marriage. They end up fighting among themselves while their platform loses all coherence.

Maybe Chris Christie can clean up this mess; but his temperament is volatile and his policies are immoderate – destroy the unions, snuggle up to Wall Street; New Jersey has a lot of financiers in those New York suburbs. He should coast to re-election this year but I’m not convinced he has national staying power. If he’s the nominee, which would take major hocus-pocus, and Hillary Clinton runs in ’16, I think Dems would keep the White House. Maybe even Biden could keep it, if he takes off his shirt and washes his Firebird in the front yard.

(The Onion, and don't think Biden hasn't exploited this image for all it's worth)

(The Onion, and don’t think Biden hasn’t exploited this for all it’s worth)

That would be three straight losses for the Republicans. Then we’ll see if some young, attractive, pro-Gay moderate can inject new life in the party, or it just burns out like the Know-Nothings.

President Obama has often compared himself to Ronald Reagan, odious as that is to me. Reagan was so successful he changed the trajectory of politics for a generation, and succeeded in seeing his vice-president replace him. (That hasn’t happened since.) The problem for Republicans is that Reagan was such a transformative figure who made conservatism acceptable, that his party today doesn’t know how to extend and broaden what he began. They’re reduced simply to invoking him, paying homage to the great man, claiming him for what they’re doing 30 years later. But he’s been dead quite some time now, and a huge chunk of voters doesn’t remember him. His trickle-down economics didn’t work, even his budget director admits cutting taxes doesn’t raise revenue or grow the economy, and these sad sacks, who lack his charisma and polished charm, are stuck doing wash/rinse/repeat. He went right, so they go further right, all the way to Crazyland, but Americans don’t want that; we like Social Security, we like Medicare and Medicaid, we don’t want people starving in the streets.

Libertarianism is a dead end; a modern society requires a modern government, with food inspectors and air traffic controllers, scientific research and development; you can’t turn back the clock. We’re here, we’re queer – they’re used to it!

The Tea Party may gasp on, but ask Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) how they like being in the Senate. As for the gun freaks after Sandy Hook, it’s plain we don’t want to live that way; it doesn’t make us safer. Obama may or may not succeed in cutting the budget when we ought to be raising it – who would he negotiate with for this “grand bargain”? – but his best bet is just putting Air Force One on auto-pilot until 2014. If Ashley Judd knocks off Mitch McConnell, the Party of No will be nowhere.++

party-of-no

Becoming Jeremiah

Jeremiah in his loincloth. (artist unknown)

The prophet in his loincloth. (artist unknown)

One of the pleasures of Lent this year for me is re-viewing the prophet Jeremiah (c. 627-c. 586 B.C.), whose big theme was the destruction of ancient Judah and the Babylonian captivity. He can see it coming, so he warns about it.

Now I don’t know if you have an image of Jeremiah in your mind, but if you do it’s probably like the old man above, with a sour attitude; a male Cassandra, doomed never to be believed until it’s too late. Modern prophets of doom – global warming, anyone? – are often said to issue “jeremiads.” But the prophet’s actual writings are richer than that; here’s a snippet appointed for tomorrow’s Morning Prayer.

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages;
who says, “I will build myself a spacious house
with large upper rooms,”
and who cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar,
and painting it with vermilion.
Are you a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
says the LORD.
But your eyes and heart
are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.

(Jer. 22:13-17, NRSV)

And I thought, “What a perfect description of slavery in the American South. I wonder how the slaveholders managed to ignore that?”

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages…
But your eyes and heart
are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.

Of course, we know how slaveholders managed to ignore that; they fastened on St. Paul’s many times of telling slaves to mind their place – heedless that what Paul actually said was “We are all slaves of something; those who believe in Christ are the joyful slaves of God.”

Racists’ “fastening on St. Paul” is a lot like homophobes’ fastening on him for their proof-texts. As LGBTs we’re all too familiar with this. First they’ll hit us with Leviticus, and when that stops working, since it’s in the Old/Hebrew Testament, they’ll start quoting St. Paul.

I never bother with Bible-quote arguments against homosexuality anymore. They bore me and I’m just too old for them; same shit, different day.

Instead I focus on the prophets – not in their future-telling ability, which is really a minor part of what prophecy’s about, but in the nature of their complaints. What exactly set them off?

There are two answers really; unrighteousness, which is worshiping the wrong god (especially money); and injustice toward fellow human beings.

But your eyes and heart
are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.

Those four simple lines, which are over 2500 years old, are the perfect indictment for Dick Cheney, the war in Iraq, Wall Street bankers, the new Pope, income inequality, corporate greed, the Republican Party, the NRA, the National Organization for Marriage, the Tea Party, Anglican schism – and even my next-door neighbor, the one who still flies his flag at half-staff because Barack Obama got re-elected. Or so it seems to me.

I don’t have to watch MSNBC to know what to think about the news; all I have to do is read my Bible.

The prophets were always pissed about Israel’s treatment of the poor! It was also Christ’s constant theme.

Recently my friends at the Polish Episcopal Network posted an icon that summarizes in a single image the heart of the message of Christ.

(unknown)

Give drink to the thirsty, visit those in prison; provide the dignity of clothing to those who have nothing. (artist unknown)

This Polish Network, run by my friends Jarek and Lukasz, are trying to establish a progressive Christian alternative in that very Catholic country, where the national hero Lech Walesa recently denounced Gay people again. There are a couple of new Gay and Lesbian members of the Polish Parliament, and Walesa said they should be seated “behind a wall,” not with the other members. (In response they occupied the front benches instead.) As you can imagine, it’s rough going, but the progressive network has an elderly priest who celebrates mass for them, and the backing and guidance of the American bishop in Paris, Pierre Whalon. Jarek and Lukasz say there is a real desire among younger Poles for a church that is catholic but not Roman. It isn’t feasible to found a church yet – people are scattered all over the country – but they have founded their network. Who is behind this new evangelism? A couple of Gay guys whose very humanity Walesa tries to deny.

Now here’s some news: I am making plans for a pilgrimage in a few months to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where a priest-friend, Margaret Watson, runs an Episcopal mission of nine churches. The People are desperately poor, and yet their faith is so real you can touch it.

YouthWorks volunteers helped reopen St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Dupree, South Dakota, last summer.

YouthWorks volunteers helped reopen St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Dupree, South Dakota, last summer on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

Because I am that rarest of Episcopalians, a commissioned Evangelist, Margaret and I are thinking I might be able to help a little with lay ministry training. One priest can’t possibly cover nine churches; the funerals alone keep her racing around, much less regular Sunday services. Fortunately the People have a tradition of mutual lay ministry, and the Bishop and diocese support them in that.

But I won’t be going as an outside expert. I am completely ignorant of their culture and their ways. I know only one thing about them, which is that my first great mentor in the faith, the Evangelist Ervin Faulkenberry, was totally in love with the Lakota Sioux. Every couple of years he used to travel to their big annual pow-wow, called the Niobrara Convocation, where Episcopalians from all the tribes in the state gather for a weeklong reunion.

The summer before I went to seminary at 22, he took the youth groups from Lafayette and Plainfield, Indiana to the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Badlands. They helped build a church there, but I didn’t get to go; I had to work and earn tuition money. Years later his daughter Pam sent me a photo of them from August 1973; her mother Emily is in the foreground, Ervin is in the center in the blue shirt, while the kids were working like dogs and sweating like pigs.

Faulkenberry.Mission_SD_1973

Yet I do know the People to some slight degree, through him, through Margaret and her blog, and a general knowledge of Native American history. The Pine Ridge Reservation is the home of Wounded Knee. Sitting Bull was killed there in 1890; Dennis Banks of the American Indian Movement led a siege there from February to May 1973. You can read about it here. Fortunately it was over by the time the Faulkenberrys got there.

Why, 40 years later, are the People still so poor? They really have almost nothing – except alcoholism, domestic violence and suicide, diabetes, heart disease and hunger. Meanwhile South Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country thanks to a boom in shale oil and gas. The state government is swimming in so much cash they can’t get rid of it – but they won’t pave any roads on the reservations or build a decent hospital.

Maybe you noticed that two weeks ago, Congress finally got around to passing the Violence Against Women Act, after a year’s worth of Republican objections over two new provisions: it covers LGBT victims of domestic violence now, and for the first time it provides that White men who commit domestic violence on the reservation can face justice in tribal courts.

Oh, the Republicans howled. Protecting Lesbian and Gay victims means approving same-sex relationships! And White men can’t get justice in Indian courts, Indians don’t know anything about justice under law!

But your eyes and heart
are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.

The reservations exist because White men stole the Indians’ land. And nothing has changed since then. That’s why all the young people get drunk; they have no other life.

And yet they do; Margaret loves her ministry, and Ervin loved his. When I go this summer, it will be to retrace his steps, to learn a little about what the faithful remnant have to teach.

I’m scared, but I’m also looking forward to it.

Now this part is difficult for me; for reasons I don’t understand, I identify with Jeremiah and the prophets. In some very minor way I am like them. Jeremiah couldn’t help himself; God called, he answered and it was all downhill from there. He somehow had the balls to tell the people of Judah they were wrong.

They didn’t listen. For the most part we don’t either; climate change, anyone?

Rachel Jones wrote about prophets recently:

Their job isn’t to tell the future in stunning detail or stark relief. Their job is to tell us what they see, what they understand; it’s not to explain things. How few of them, sacred and secular, have really understood the profound underpinnings of what they’ve been charged to share? But even in the face of the naked acknowledgment that there is always a lack of total understanding, each prophet eventually succumbs to the compulsion to speak their piece, because they have to; even if it’s imperfect in practice, the true and right message transcends the messenger. And that makes them difficult people to know, much less to be; they are constantly being spoken through, without ever really speaking.  They are serious people, most of the time, even in moments of joy and refreshment.

Am I one of those prophets? Are my friends Leonardo and Grandmère Mimi? In a small way, yes. All of us “eventually succumb to the compulsion to speak our piece, because we have to.”

I am a disciple of Ervin Faulkenberry, who was a disciple of Martin Luther King Sr., the father of a genuine prophet.

More than that, LGBTs as a group, a community, are and have been prophets. The whole reason for saying and doing what we do is not to save ourselves, but to spare others if we can. It’s a tribe I’m proud to belong to.

But I also know this: no matter how much we draw connections between one oppressed group and another, no matter how much we can read tomorrow’s headlines in yesterday’s Bible, the in-our-lifetimes, in-this-decade success of the Gay civil rights movement has come about primarily because it’s White, male and middle-class. To really understand powerlessness and therefore overcome it, we have to go and learn from people who don’t have a thing but faith.

Liberation doesn’t trickle down, it bubbles up. Pray for me if you can, that I’ll learn something from my reservation pilgrimage. What I don’t know is a lot more than what I do.

If I can be faithful while having nothing like the Lakotas – if I can feed the hungry like they do, with two loaves and some fishes – if I can figure out how Margaret manages to serve nine churches in the middle of nowhere – then finally some wisdom may begin. I don’t have any today, but I do know where to go to find it.

When I ran photos Margaret took of the weekday lunch program at St. John’s, Eagle Butte, on my prayer site, the people scoffed, “Why’d he do that? This is just what we do.”

When they’re not finding White people dangerous, they often find us silly. And that’s the key somehow. They don’t want to go to Williston, where the oil and gas jobs are. They don’t want to join the rat race in any way. They want to stay where they are, among their own. Despite all their suffering, and it’s severe, they don’t want to suffer like we do.

Like a person who won’t touch a favorite food of yours, some people just don’t know what’s good, so there’s no helping them.

I’ll go to South Dakota as a pilgrim, and when I get back home I’ll either be better at being me, or much much worse. I’m looking forward to it.

And the conservatives I somehow attract to my prayer site, despite a steady stream of facts from the reality-based community? Let ’em how at the moon, I don’t care.++

Tim_Egan

America Is Rushing to the Altar

A West Point cadet and his boyfriend, 2013: here's what freedom looks like.

A West Point cadet and his boyfriend, 2013: here’s what freedom looks like.

All over the teevee, Straight commentators are marveling at how fast Americans’ views on Gay marriage are changing. Why, they’ve never seen anything like it! And they can’t explain it.

Not to worry; I am here.

Jerry Falwell did us a big favor. Then he died.

U.S. politics changed dramatically in 1980; Ronald Reagan kicked Jimmy Carter out of the White House and ushered in a new conservatism marked by hyper-capitalism and greed, military aggression (with invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989, and illegal funding of the Contra War in El Salvador throughout the decade), racism, sexism (the Equal Rights Amendment died in 1982) and homophobia. The pendulum swung far to the right.

Now it has swung to the left with the re-election of President Obama, and LGBTs are among the beneficiaries.

Falwell, a Baptist TV preacher, had huge political ambitions, and his support for Reagan was key in forming a new electoral coalition. Whenever one of these big shifts happens, the composition of the political parties realigns. Today’s TV talking heads, with their sound-bite brains, remember all this as involving “Reagan Democrats,” who were White ethnics and union workers in Macomb County, Michigan, right outside Black Detroit. But Falwell’s Fundamentalists were arguably the more important voting bloc; they were nationwide and united behind Reagan, in an effort to reverse abortion rights. President Carter won the union vote in 1980 despite the Reagan Democrats. He lost conservative Christians, despite being one himself.

Rep. Martha Griffiths, D-Michigan, steered the Equal Rights Amendment through Congress. It failed to be ratified by the states, thanks to a backlash led by Phyllis Schlafly, an Illinois lawyer portraying herself as a happy housewife. (Warren D. Leffler)

Rep. Martha Griffiths, D-Michigan, steered the Equal Rights Amendment through Congress in 1972. It failed to be ratified by the states, thanks to a backlash led by Phyllis Schlafly, an Illinois lawyer portraying herself as a happy housewife. (Warren K. Leffler)

It’s proven impossible over the years to roll back abortion rights, and Reagan had a sense of how hard it would be. Every January Falwell and his allies would converge in a big demonstration at the Supreme Court trying to overturn Roe v. Wade; they helped elect Reagan and kept expecting him to show up, but he never did. Year after year he gave them a speech played over the loudspeakers, but he never once appeared in person; he didn’t want to be in a picture with them.

To juice up his movement, Falwell expanded his issues to cover “family values” and demonize Gay people. Abortion was always his number one target, and Gay people seemed like easy pickings. His strategy was successful for awhile, but it was fatally flawed.

He ran a persecution campaign, but those only work for awhile. (He should have known that, being a Christian.) Nothing generates more sympathy than TV pictures of people being abused.

Civil rights marchers being beaten by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, 1965. This scene led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.

Civil rights marchers being beaten by Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, 1965. This scene led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year.

Falwell had a problem; he couldn’t scapegoat all the women of America because there are too many of them. The goal of the anti-abortion movement has always been to put women back in their place. It’s not about unborn babies or the right to life, it’s about how grown women act here and now. It’s about men’s power and who gets to decide things. If Falwell had waged war on all women, not only would they object, so would a certain percentage of men; so he turned his venom on Gay people instead, thinking (and not unreasonably) that queers had no defenders anywhere.

It worked for awhile; but he and his clones, especially Pat Robertson, gradually became better known for hating Gay people than opposing abortion. They helped this image along by making outlandish claims and repeating obvious lies.

A hurricane did not destroy Disney World, and Gay Day went on as usual.

Where once Gay people were unmentionable, all of a sudden we were being talked about constantly.

We came out. And we kept coming out, coming and coming.

We started to reveal ourselves in the 1960s in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and of course in New York. What started as a trickle in time turned into a flood.

Daddy didn’t like that his boy was a queer, but Mama still loved her son; so did Grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. As for that Lezzie daughter, well, anybody could see that Martha Griffiths had a point – and Betty Friedan, the whole lot of them. A woman ought to be able to be a doctor if she wants to be, or even a lumberjack. If that’s what she wants, well, it won’t pay to try to stop her. She never was the type to wear pearls anyway.

Three strands this time, plus a cross necklace. Schlafly promised to turn back the clock to the days of "Father Knows Best."

Three strands this time, plus a cross necklace. Schlafly promised to turn back the clock to the days of “Father Knows Best.”

Here’s a fact that’s still unbelievable to me: I was the first openly-Gay person in Cincinnati (Palm Sunday, 1978), along with an MCC pastor who soon left town. The Rev. Howard Gaass and I lent our full real names to a bunch of articles in The Cincinnati Enquirer. The reporters did a fine job with it, sensitive and accurate. They interviewed all the Lesbians and Gay men they could find. But none of the women were quoted by name, and only two of the men.

I don’t know what was running through Howard’s mind, and I’ve never criticized his leaving town; I hope he just got a new opportunity and jumped on it. But I knew you can’t run a social movement while hiding your name and face behind a curtain. You have to take responsibility; you have to show some leadership. On Gay issues that was especially important, because the stereotype was that we were all wimps and sissies, ready to run if somebody looked at us cross-eyed.

You have to be willing to sacrifice, in public, for your beliefs, even if it means you’ll get killed. John Lewis, in that Selma photo above, nearly did get killed. But now he’s a Congressman from Georgia.

(While I’m just blogging!)

The famous Gay debate at the American Psychiatric Association in 1972: Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and a Gay psychiatrist (John E. Fryer) in a Halloween mask.

The famous Gay debate at the American Psychiatric Association in 1972: activists Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and a Gay psychiatrist (John E. Fryer) in a Halloween mask.

I have never spent much time thinking about why it took most LGBTs so long to come out. I think I’d probably resent them, actually; so I’ve always banished that particular thought. What was obvious to me, that coming out is an absolute necessity, was not so obvious to most. I do not hold to the standard blather about coming out that “it’s an intensely personal decision that everybody has to make for themselves,” so that we end up with Ricky Martin finally telling the truth in 2010, once he had to explain how he and his male partner ended up with two kids. I don’t begrudge the man, even if he was livin’ the crazy life all those years.

I’d rather have allies than not. (And I suppose Frank Kameny could ask what took me so long – except that in 1960 when he took the U.S. Government to the Supreme Court over anti-Gay discrimination, I was only 9.)

Please tell the Talking Heads that this incredible shift on Gay marriage has come about because we started telling our families and friends the truth.

And because Jerry Falwell was a Public Idiot.

And because of AIDS.

Oscar nominee, Best Documentary. Didn't win. Gay films never do.

Oscar nominee, Best Documentary. Didn’t win. Gay films never do.

I don’t have much to say about AIDS today, except that I’m glad to be a founder of AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, the world’s second-oldest support and advocacy group.

It grew because of Lesbians more than Gay men. The real heroes of AIDS, and there are many, are women who didn’t have it. That pattern was repeated in city after city – Gay women, Straight women, compassionate and courageous women.

What finally broke down the sexism of Gay men was that we needed those women.

The political connection between AIDS and Gay marriage is that what once was unmentionable became a topic on everyone’s lips. Ronald Reagan tried his best never to mention the word, until his friend Rock Hudson came down with it.

I was working at Gay Men’s Health Crisis while Hudson was jetting off to Paris, desperately trying to save his life. I didn’t blame him; my clients were doing the same thing. Still, there was a pathos to that whole episode. Hudson denied being Gay and having AIDS as long as he could, and then it stopped mattering.

I lost only one close friend to AIDS, an Episcopalian from Ohio named Craig Jason Byers. To his name I add composer Calvin Hampton, whose Mass music I used to sing at seminary in 1974, the same year I first marched in the Stonewall anniversary demonstration. “Pride Parades” used to be demonstrations, kids. (And yes, I was scared that first time.)

I credit my religion, my faith, my Christ, for propelling my activism. I credit my mentors Ervin Faulkenberry, Howard Galley and Brooke Bushong, Episcopal Church evangelists who couldn’t have been less like Jerry Falwell.

I credit the prophet Amos, to tell the truth; “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

God made me do it – and still does.

A flood of Gay victims made our existence inescapable.

People with AIDS; Frank Kameny. Matthew Shepard; “God Hates Fags.” Too many to count, and still going on today; Edie Windsor, fighting DOMA to the Supreme Court; Uganda’s David Kato, murdered for being Gay.

Sweet Matt, an Episcopalian headed for a career in the State Department; he wanted to serve his country.

Sweet Matt, an Episcopalian headed for a career in the State Department; he wanted to serve his country.

All that victimization finally piled up – just as a new generation arrived, determined, as new generations always are, to prove that their parents were completely wrong about something very important.

For my generation it was the War in Vietnam, civil rights, women’s rights. For this generation, we’re It.

I still hate their tattoos and always will, but thank you, America’s Youth. You are once again leading the world.

2008 election results among LGBTs. (Political Science & Politics Journal)

2008 election results among swing-state LGBTs. With Democrats, women and young voters, we elected this President. His re-election marks another generational realignment in the governing coalition, much as Reagan changed the 1980s. (Political Science & Politics Journal)

Marriage is easier to deal with than discrimination.

When America changes, even radically, the change is only partial. Yes, we fought a civil war to end slavery. But we waited another hundred years to start to enact racial equality.

Same-sex marriage will soon be the law of the land, whether or not we win the cases to be argued this month in the Supreme Court. Maybe we’ll lose; we lost Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, then won Lawrence v. Texas just 15 years later. Yay, Gay people can have adult sex in private without getting thrown in jail!

(Justice Scalia, hateful bigot that he is, was right in Lawrence, that if Gay sex was made legal, Gay marriage wouldn’t be far behind.)

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed, but the Employment Non-Discrimination Act continues to languish. Apparently it’s okay with Congress if you’re queer and willing to die for your country, but not okay to be Gay at Chick Fil-A.

Tracey Hepner and her wife, Brig. Gen. Tammy S. Smith.

Tracey Hepner and her wife, Brig. Gen. Tammy S. Smith.

Marriage is something everyone can identify with (even as heterosexuals increasingly reject it), while having a job where you’re treated the same as everyone else is still too much to ask. This is just what John Lewis, Dr. King and millions of African-Americans went through in 1965; “you’re citizens but you’re not allowed to vote.”

Picketing the White House in 1965; not a leatherman or bikey dyke in sight.

“Homosexuals Are Citizens, Too”: picketing the White House in 1965, not a leatherman or bikey dyke in sight.

Of all the Gay issues to provoke a deep response in Americans, why is marriage the great galvanizer? I think it comes down to two things.

First, Falwell and his ilk were and are such clowns that anyone could see through them and laugh, long before Jon Stewart perfected political satire on “The Daily Show.” Ol’ Jerry was kind of a big fat guy, and he set himself up for ridicule the day he went after Tinky-Winky.

Falwell was a firm believer in using simple, powerful symbols to get his message across; his Moral Majority rallies featured lots of flags and patriotic music sung by well-scrubbed, clean-cut White kids; it was like getting beaten over the head with a Pat Boone record. But Falwell made a mistake when he went after this little cartoon kid.

Falwell was a firm believer in using simple, powerful symbols to get his message across. His Moral Majority rallies featured lots of flags and patriotic music sung by well-scrubbed, clean-cut White kids; those rallies were like getting beaten over the head with a Pat Boone record. But Falwell made a mistake when he went after this innocent cartoon kid.

Something else happened as part of this that I don’t think anyone’s really noticed.

• Goaded by their girlfriends, young Straight men stopped feeling threatened by Gay men.

I suspect this is the most powerful change of all; the dueling stereotypes (“All Gay men are sissies”/”All Gay men are dangerous rapists”) lost their power.

This is the personal, psychic equivalent of today’s political statement that Gay marriage has no effect on Straight marriages.

So live-and-let-live will soon become the law. Not even Fundamentalists can shout down “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s scripture in the United States, a self-evident truth.

It is a sad fact, though built into our democracy, that the law always lags social change. The battles over evolution and climate change are winding down, too. Obama’s re-election sealed their fate. I don’t know what will become of the Republican Party, but it’s increasingly obvious that ya just can’t turn back the clock. The 195os are done.

This is the best generation of young Straight men the world’s ever seen. My admiration for them knows no bounds. (Well, it knows one bound; I don’t desire them. But you know what I mean.) These guys are great!

When Scalia lost the football players, all hope went with them.

This Is What a Feminist Looks Like: when Scalia lost the football players, all hope went with them.

Finally, there’s this; it goes back to that quiet conversation between Gayboy and Grandma, Lezziegrrl and Grandpa. On the back porch, or over a cup of tea, or right after a big screamfest in the living room, or down at the fishin’ hole, where you have to whisper because the fish have ears:

It isn’t just sex, it’s love.

Well, it's both sex and love, actually. But love remains, decades after sex fades. And there aren't many grandparents in America who would deprive their kid of that.

Well, it’s both sex and love, actually. But love remains, decades after sex fades. And there are fewer and fewer grandparents who would deprive their kid of that.

So we win – and will live to fight again another day.++