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After We Win, What?

By Lavender July 3, 2008

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Governments, often prompted by religions, long have been the chief enemy of gay equality, passing laws and upholding private practices that prevent gays and lesbians from leading normal lives.

But in mid-May the California Supreme Court, using a so-called “strict scrutiny” criterion, struck down a law that limited the word “marriage” to unions of opposite-sex couples.

Barely a week later, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in California, returned a previously dismissed suit against the military’s ban on gay personnel, instructing the lower court that, as The New York Times put it, “government intrusion into the private lives of gay men and lesbians must require the government to meet a heightened standard of scrutiny.”

Inasmuch as government bans on gay marriage and gay personnel serving in the military are two remaining linchpins of government-mandated discrimination, the two cases invite the pleasant thought that antigay laws and policies must have some solid, rationally defensible justification, rather than just any old trumped-up excuse, and, therefore, spell the beginning of the beginning of the end of government-mandated discrimination.

Even though it would mean that our main legal goals have been achieved, I doubt if it would mean that our gay advocacy organizations should close shop, our long-sought goals achieved.

For one thing, on a continuing basis, we still will need to counter sources of antipathy and prejudice (nurtured by fundamentalist religious doctrine or self-sustaining heterosexism). Consider the ongoing work that the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations find necessary on behalf of their constituencies.

For another thing, it is important to realize that just because we win favorable court decisions, the removal of antigay laws, and maybe even passage of (a very different thing) gay nondiscrimination laws, these laws and court decisions do not enforce themselves. They are nothing more than tools. They have to be put to work by gays and our supporters by filing lawsuits and formal complaints, mounting protests, and the like.

Consider some of the sources of antigay prejudice. Prominent among them is the US military, parts of which are influenced strongly by conservative Christianity. The US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs virtually is run as an evangelical cult, hostile not only to gays, but also to Jews, atheists, and other religions.

Then, there are antigay teachers, school administrators, and school boards, prominently, but hardly exclusively, in the American South. They try to block any attempt to form Gay/Straight Alliances in schools, have gay speakers, observe Gay History Month, or allow the wearing of gay-affirmative T-shirts or buttons. Many administrators are terrified of any discussion of sex, and make an automatic link between anything “gay” and the promotion of sexual activity. Many evangelical and conservative groups even oppose laws against the bullying of gay schoolchildren.

And how about the Boy Scouts of America, and their exclusion of gay Scouts? Yes, they can do that legally. But if they want government favors, cheap rent on government buildings and marinas, use of government lands for their jamborees, tax support, etc., that should not be legal. And we should ridicule their antigay rationale, claiming the Boy Scouts oath requirement that a Scout be “straight” means “heterosexual.” The definitive Oxford English Dictionary fails to record any use of “straight” to mean heterosexual at the time the oath was written.

In addition, “Ex-Gays” obtain far more publicity than their small numbers deserve. Riddled though “Ex-Gay” groups are with dissimulation, hypocrisy, lapsed “exes,” and failed “change” efforts, their mere existence enables gullible (or malevolent) Christians to make preposterous claims on their behalf. One op-ed writer in Toledo recently claimed that “every day, thousands” of gays leave “the homosexual lifestyle.”

It is worth pointing out that many, perhaps most, of the antigay groups with a primarily religious motivation nonetheless try to offer secular/scientific-sounding arguments for their policies or policy positions. Those reasons, which are often remarkably feeble or dishonest, make an inviting target for gay advocates. But so long as they can keep us focused on their publicly offered positions, they insulate themselves from any effective critique of their underlying rationale and motivation. And we lose any hope of luring away some of their religious supporters.

So, we have to listen to what they say among themselves, what they state in their churches, and what they tell their core supporters—to learn how to meet them on their own turf. If this requires arguing about religion, so be it.

Religion never should be immune to reasonable critique. After all, that is how the Reformation and the Enlightenment took place.

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