Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One step at a time.

I recently watched a video on YouTube, of Barak Obama speaking at a rally in Beaumont, Texas: Obama speaks about GLBT and Christianity. Reading through the comments I noticed people pointing out something that I've heard from others as well: Obama is not in favor of gay marriage. In fact, none of the candidates are. And this got me to thinking, which got me to writing this.

To start with, I support Obama. I have a few reasons for this - he stopped taking donations from lobbyists when he began his campaign, he's pretty progressive, he opposes the war (and unlike some people, myself included, he has done so from the start.) And while some people may say he's inexperienced, I think that this isn't necessarily a bad thing: he's been in politics for a while, but not so long that it's made him jaded and cynical. Something that I've noticed a lot of GLBT people and allies pointing out, though, is that while he supports equal rights for gays and lesbians, he's against gay marriage and has only ever supported civil unions. I've seen people calling this inconsistency and even hypocrisy, and saying that he's supporting the idea of "separate but equal".

Well, that's all true. And I'm supporting him anyway, because when it comes to GLBT rights he is probably the best candidate we can hope for right now.

Much as it disgusts me, the fact is that anyone who supported full marriage rights for gays at this point in our history would be committing political suicide. Frankly I'm impressed that he was willing to say what he did in the video: that he's heard people in the Christian community say things that "[aren't] very Christian" about gays and lesbians, and that this is wrong, and that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their sexual orientation. Not only that, he said this in Texas, in front of an audience made up of primarily Christian heterosexuals. Given that, it's impressive that he was so direct about it.

And these aren't empty words, they match his past actions and voting record. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, and is in favor of overturning it at the federal level. He was also against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which fortunately didn't pass. He's against the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that the US military still thinks is necessary for some reason. He wants to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation. He supports allowing civil unions at a federal level which would be equivalent to marriage in everything but name, and would leave the issue of whether to call it "marriage" up to individual states. This is all stated in a PDF file posted on his website. Not only that, he's repeatedly defended gay rights during his public appearances - even if, as in Beaumont, he was speaking in front a group of people who would likely disagree with him. (This is, by the way, one of the things that separates him from Hillary Clinton; when she speaks about gay rights it's almost always been in front of a primarily gay audience.)

I won't deny that the naming issue bothers me, because of the "separate but equal" concept. But if this is the best we can get right now, I say let's take it. Every single group that has ever been marginalized has had to get through things like this while they fought and waited for society to change. It took African-Americans nearly 100 years to go from being newly-freed slaves to being equal under the law, because for a long time it was widely thought that blacks and whites could not be equal. It took American women until 1920 to be able to vote in all elections, because the general opinion was that women lacked the intelligence to be involved in politics.

Now it's our turn. We're up against the people who think we should replace the Constitution with Leviticus, the people who still think that being gay causes AIDS, and the more "moderate" folks who "don't have anything against gay people, but...". I detest these viewpoints, and I try my best to convince the people who hold them that they're wrong, but I also know that people don't change their minds about these things overnight. I once attended a lecture given by Daryl Davis- he was the first black person to write a book about the Ku Klux Klan from the perspective of an interviewer rather than a victim. Most of the Klan members he met with and interviewed eventually became good friends with him and later quit the Klan because of it; some of them even gave him their robes as a kind of symbolic gesture. But there was almost always an in-between period, before the cognitive dissonance set in, where they were both staunch KKK members and friends with a black man.

People can be astoundingly persistent in this kind of doublethink without even realizing it (which is where the "I don't hate gay people, but..." folks come from) and there's not much we can do to change that. This does not mean that we should stop fighting or become complacent, it just means that we need to be patient and take what we can get as it comes along. And if that means calling it a civil union instead of a marriage for the moment, then that's what we should do. Barack Obama isn't being quite as broad-minded as I'd like him to be, but he's offering us a hell of a lot more than anyone else is... so I'm willing to forgive him for that.