The slippery slope

As hopes for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans melt away and the antigay forces muster power, will we know when it’s time to leave just to save our own skins?

BY Rod Abid

November 05 2004 12:00 AM ET

Back in the mid and late ’90s I was assigned to work in Bosnia and Kosovo, where I learned several things.(1) The Bosnians and Kosovars who didn’t leave and were there for the war wished they’d paid attention to the many signs of their nation falling off the precipice. They didn’t imagine that the cultural differences in their nation would result in an all-out war.(2) The people who didn’t leave couldn’t imagine that things could turn so bad so quickly.(3) The people who didn’t leave knew that the Serbs could hate them, but didn’t imagine that the hatred would come to them in the form of their neighbors turning them over to homicidal paramilitary groups.These people saw signs of a clearly gathering threat. But they didn’t, or couldn’t, get out in time.I learned that when the center doesn’t hold things can get ugly very quickly. I decided that I, as a gay man in the United States of America, would not let myself get caught behind enemy lines if the American center didn’t hold.It was an easy-to-digest thought back in the ’90s. It seemed that gay men and lesbians were living in a virtuous cycle, when corporations were instituting domestic partner policies and gays and lesbians were becoming more and more visible in both the media and in daily life.Today, November 5, 2004, life in the United States doesn’t feel safe.I’m not saying that I see a Bosnia-like fall in this country. But I do see an America where the center is slowly coming undone, a downward slope. And the only difference between a downward slope and a precipice is the time it takes to move down to the same place.For the past four years any perceptive gay man or lesbian could notice the downward slope in their political lives beginning to take shape. President Bush’s judicial nominees were the clearest sign: qualified jurists with views about gays and lesbians formed by the most fundamentalist of Christian beliefs. These men and women often have had to go into confirmation hearings and disown previous statements in which they asserted that gays and lesbians are not fit members of American society.Then in the past year a new and even stronger sign of the downward slope came into view when the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex couples getting married was unconstitutional under the antidiscrimination clause of the Massachusetts constitution.The response from the Republican Party was not dissimilar to the Ku Klux Klan’s response to the Voting Rights Act. This wasn’t about human rights, they said. This was, they said, about a few judges doing irreparable harm to the country. To them, this wasn’t about American citizens validating their long-term relationships and living their lives pretty much as they had always lived them. It was an affront against God and needed to be stamped out at any cost.How did the president of all the citizens of the United States respond to this furor? He proposed adding real, live bigotry to the Constitution of the nation. The worst part of it was that he seemed to think that he could be both tolerant (he says he is not prejudiced toward gays and lesbians) and propose such an amendment.And that president just got reelected, with the winning margin coming from people who agree with his policies regarding gays and lesbians. The president and his party worked hard to “get out their base” to vote, and a large part of that strategy was to get antigay marriage amendments onto ballots in crucial states, including Ohio, the state that won him the election.The downward slope is firmly in place.So now where do we gay and lesbian Americans stand?Basically in a shit hole.How bad is it? Let’s look at the various players who will affect our political future.The president. George W. Bush probably doesn’t hate gays and lesbians. He believes, he says, that all people are sinners, and that no one should claim perfection over other sinners, that only God can judge. But at the root of this belief is the idea that gays and lesbians are sinners because of who they are, not what they do. And his words are really of no importance when one looks at his election strategy. The president allowed his closest political adviser, Karl Rove, to use hatred of gays and lesbians as the centerpiece of his reelection strategy.Sure, his vice president’s daughter is a lesbian. But in light of the president’s election strategy, can we really rely on his sense of tolerance and fairness?I won’t even mention the name of the man whom Mr. Bush chose to be our top law enforcement officer.The Supreme Court. It was the court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that paved the way for the Massachusetts supreme judicial court’s decision. A 6–3 decision that spoke to the dignity of gay people, Lawrence was perhaps the most moving political document that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. But I don’t believe we gays and lesbians are going to have much time to live under it.It’s pretty clear that the president will have the opportunity to fill three Supreme Court positions during his second term. Based on his lower-court nominees, we can pretty much determine that his nominees will be conservatives with no inclination to continue the court’s acknowledgment of the dignity and simple equality of gays and lesbians. But as long as they’re qualified jurists it’s likely that their political views will not prevent their confirmation, which brings us to...Congress. Take a close look at the leadership of the next Congress: Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Dennis Hastert, Rick Santorum. Do a quick Google search of these names with “special rights” or, in the case of Mr. Santorum, “bestiality” and you’ll get a good idea of how these people feel about gays and lesbians. Move down the ranks among the GOP members of the House and Senate and you’ll find an almost overwhelming number of legislators who are happy to compare gays and lesbians to murderers, child molesters, and even Nazis.Barring some major change, the Republican Party is setting the table to run this country for a long time to come. And we in the gay community are not invited to sit at this table.Am I saying that we’re slouching toward Bosnia? Are we going to have to face the loss of our homes, our jobs, our ability to survive? No. But remember the slope—the slow degradation of our rights in this society. Among the things that are possible: sodomy laws reinstituted, partnership rights revoked, adoption rights taken away, harassment overlooked by law enforcement. And forget teaching in public schools, or serving in the military.The Republican Party as an organization wants us back in the closet. They don’t want to see us, hear from us, know we’re there. And, once the Supreme Court has five votes in favor of this invisibility, our legal rights will be in real and immediate peril.Now some will say that I’m overreacting. I don’t think so. The pendulum in this country has swung away from the center, and is swinging clearly to the right. The best thing that can be said about the GOP’s treatment of gay people is that they’re using us as political tools to play to their base. Our best-case scenario is that we’re a cynically manipulated factor to gain political power. That’s the best we can do under this system.Now what to do? Do we stay and fight? Perhaps, though it’s always been difficult to create anything resembling a grassroots groundswell for gay rights.Can we count on a majority of Americans voting or using their political clout to stand up for us? I don’t think so.Move to another country? Perhaps, though it’s not as easy as just buying a plane ticket. Now of course, if our rights are marginalized to a certain degree, then there’s the chance that “political asylum” might become an option.Yes, on this point I’m serious: political asylum.I have no prescription for gay and lesbian American citizens except to be ready for anything: Save money, liquefy assets, keep your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. Assume the worst. It could turn into a reality.

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