What an awesome editorial in a local newspaper... The politics of gay-bashing Opinion By D. Allan Kerr April 08, 2009 10:10 AM Here across the northeast tip of the United States, where we pride ourselves in like-it-or-stick-it Yankee independence, individuals are toiling to extend marriage equality to the homosexual community. This week, somewhat shockingly, they achieved success in Vermont. Now we will see if Maine and New Hampshire can squash the serpent of fear as well. If I hadn’t already chosen a side in this debate, the comments I’ve heard in recent weeks from opponents of the three bills would have been enough to make me an entrenched defender of the proposals. When the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted last month to allow gay people to get married, John H. Sununu – the former governor and chief of staff under President Bush the Elder -- could only muster the tired retort that Democrats were trying to "impose their San Francisco agenda" on the Granite State. Apparently that was his sole argument.. A Maine woman was quoted in this newspaper as saying she opposed a similar measure in her state because gay relationships are not typically long-term, and she didn’t think gays should raise children because "the vast number of pedophile situations are homosexual." Then she said: "I don't want to hurt them, I just don't agree with them on this issue." That comment struck me. There are, of course, well-meaning and decent people on either side of this debate, but just as you don’t have to burn a cross in your black neighbor’s yard to be a racist, there’s more to gay-bashing than merely belting a homosexual in the face. If you inflame animosity and ignorance toward homosexuals, that’s a tactic of gay-bashing. If you promote negative stereotypes of homosexuality, that’s gay-bashing. And if you seek out ways to relegate homosexuals to a class beneath the general population, that’s a form of gay-bashing as well. How can we claim we don’t wish any harm? We are all striving to create what our Constitution calls "a more perfect union." That’s the goal we pursue for American society and it’s what we hope to achieve in our personal lives. Now we are denying fellow citizens the right to engage in either pursuit. In doing so we make ourselves a weaker people. Like it or not, when one of us is diminished, we are all diminished. We’ve apparently forgotten already the folly of persecution that scars our short history; the tragic consequences of distrust among those who make up the American fabric. American Indians, blacks, Jews, the Irish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics and Muslims have all suffered abuse for our fear of whatever makes them different, to the detriment of us all. One reader recently likened the furor over gay marriage to fears over miscegenation in this country, noting there was a time when her current marriage would have been against the law in some states. Over time we’ve surpassed these fears – a good thing, because if such laws were pervasive in this country we would never have had a President Obama or, perhaps even more tragically, no Halle Berry. This past Monday, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont vetoed a marriage equality bill that had passed both houses of his state’s legislature. The very next day, to the surprise of many, the House managed to override the veto with a 100-49 vote – the minimum necessary for passage. The Senate vote was a more decisive 23-5. Now Vermont is the fourth state in the country to permit gay marriage, but the first to due so through the political process. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa all sanctioned the act through the courts. Marriage equality bills are now being considered by the legislatures of Maine and New Hampshire as well. And once again, the specter of a gubernatorial veto looms over the process. Govs. John Baldacci and John Lynch – both Democrats – have previously said they oppose gay marriage, even though they support civil unions. Both men have always seemed to me decent and fair-minded, so my question to them is this: By what rationale would you refuse brother citizens -- who pay their taxes, follow the law and contribute to our community -- the same pursuit of happiness in which you have engaged? And I don’t want to hear the tired old excuse that the long-understood definition of marriage consists of a man and a woman; there was a time when "We the people" supposedly meant wealthy white male landowners. No, I have to think the primary reason these public servants would even contemplate discrimination of their constituents is fear of the voters – who in turn are driven by their own fear of what has come to be known as "otherness." This fear is rooted in ignorance, and thankfully there are remedies: information and experience. The more we familiarize ourselves with that which we do not know, the more comfortable we become with the foreign. But a lawmaker perpetuating the persecution of a minority in order to satiate the majority is textbook cowardice. Our leaders, you see, are supposed to know better. A New Hampshire woman named Jean told me recently that when her 15-year-old son died after being hit by a truck, her own mother told Jean she was being punished for her relationship with her partner Jan. (I’ve often wondered why gays are "punished" when they lose loved ones or suffer misfortune, while heterosexual God-fearing folks are "tested" or are simply subject to "God’s will.") Jan was fired from her job as a pre-school teacher after moving in with Jean, due to fear that she posed a "danger" to the children and fellow teachers. They provided respite care for a young girl until a social worker decided she was "at risk" with the women and placed her with a straight family – where, Jean says, the girl was raped within a week. Meanwhile, Jan and Jean have been together for 22 years and have between them five children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. These are not evil people. They don’t want to marry their partners so they can adopt and then rape children. They want to marry because that’s what people do to symbolize the extent of their commitment to the person they love. It’s outrageous that there are those among us who insist these couples are unworthy of entering into such a union, while a couple of drunken heterosexuals can tie the knot in Vegas before an Elvis impersonator. And for the record, I would entrust my baby daughter with a gay couple long before I would consider most of the boy-girl alliances I’ve encountered. Opponents say this isn’t the right time to deal with the issue of marriage equality, given the state of the economy, unemployment and so on. But as always, you have to wonder if the matter would take on a higher priority if these individuals were themselves the targets of discrimination. If, say, everyone over the age of 40 was prohibited from entering into marriage, don’t you think lawmakers would tackle the subject with greater urgency? I’ve become more invested in this debate over the past year and I have no doubt it stems from what you might call "straight guilt." Less than sixteen months ago, my wife and I got married within weeks of deciding to do so. Just this week, my brother almost impetuously married his long-time live-in girlfriend. We were both allowed to pursue more perfect unions and are now married to the loves of our lives. But knowing that others are being denied this same pursuit of happiness, achieved with almost ridiculous ease (once we won over the girl), is a source of shame. It would be selfish, irresponsible and cruel to allow this discrimination to stand. The bill in New Hampshire has been passed on to the state Senate following approval in the House; a public hearing on the Maine bill is taking place in Augusta on April 24. Neither governor, as of this writing, has made his position known. Now is the time to let your voice be heard. Now is the time for a long-overdue injustice to be corrected.