The Politics of Homophobia and Hatred

By the time you read these words, you will already know for sure what I, in mid-October, can only predict with confidence: that the referendum to amend the Georgia state constitution to define marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman not only passed, but passed by an overwhelming majority of the state's population.

And in so doing, civil rights for gays and lesbians have been set back 35 years, to the pre-Stonewall era. This is particularly distressing for the HIV-infected and -affected, because part of the section of the proposed amendment that did not appear on the public ballot -- No union between persons of the same sex shall be recognized by this state as entitled to the benefits of marriage -- might very well lead some state court to declare that civil unions and all domestic partnership benefits offered by employers are unconstitutional. Such a ruling could be devastating to HIV-positive persons dependent on their domestic partners' healthcare benefits.

What happened? Not so long ago, it seemed that we had made extraordinary advances in public acceptance: domestic partnership benefits were being offered and nondiscrimination policies were being established by an impressive number of municipalities and corporations; gays and lesbians could be found everywhere on prime-time TV, notably the hit series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; and lo and behold, even anti-sodomy laws across the country were overturned by the federal Supreme Court. Although gay activists hailed that June 2003 decision, critics declared with horror that decriminalizing homosexual sodomy would ultimately lead to the legalization of gay marriage.

To some small extent, it did. In November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, and in May of this year, that state became the first in the union to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The City of San Francisco and a county in New Mexico did the same. And then, from seemingly everywhere, came the angry anti-gay backlash. A firestorm of conservative outrage erupted across this country, and the movement to "protect" the "sanctity" of "traditional" marriage became one of the most heatedly debated topics of the year.

Let me tell you a little something about my experience with the "sanctity" of marriage. I have four grandparents, two parents, four natural aunts and uncles, one brother and nine adult cousins. Of these 20 blood kin, all but three have married at least once. Of those 17 married relatives, two grandparents, one parent, one aunt, one uncle, and no less than six of my seven cousins who have married have been (or still are) divorced. That's a staggering 65% divorce rate among my relatives who have ever married. While we're at it, let's ask my evangelical grandmother, Mrs. Lillian Stella Johnson McKinny Carriker Hendrix Owens Hendrix -- married no less than five times, twice to the same man -- about the so-called "sanctity" of marriage. My own family is the perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy of marriage protectionists. Sanctity, schmanctity.

So excuse me if I get a little bent out of shape when I hear all these sanctimonious blowhards bellowing about the mythical "sanctity" of marriage. You'll understand if I get a little angry at all those righteous fundamentalists fighting so hard to "protect" the very privilege that they themselves have so irresponsibly abused. Because when you smash through their argument -- that the only reason they oppose marriage for gays and lesbians is because it has always been reserved for heterosexual couplings, a Biblical institution decreed by GOD Himself -- you then expose them for what they truly are: bigots who pick and choose only those Biblical passages that serve their own homophobic rhetoric. If they truly believed in the "sanctity" of marriage, they would be well-served to revisit Malachi 2:13-17, which speaks of their GOD's hatred of divorce:

"And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously."

Funny how you don't hear much about that from the Bible-thumpers.

Last March, I was one of the many hundreds of people who went to the State Capitol to urge my elected representatives to vote against SR-595, the Senate Resolution that ultimately led to the November amendment referendum. It was very clear to me that many more hundreds of people had also come to urge their representatives to vote for it. The lobbying procedure, surprisingly antiquated, went thusly: you handwrote a note to your representative, urging him or her to vote for or against the pending bill; you walked your little note to your representative's office and handed it to the person inside; and then you waited for the vote to be called. And you waited. And then you waited some more.

After the greatest majority of the citizens in attendance had delivered their notes, there was a collective sense of, "What next?" The answer came in whispered tones throughout the building: Go meet in the rotunda until the vote is called. And so I did. I found a square foot of floor space, a couple of steps out from the circular wall, facing in, and parked there, silent; observant and unmoving. What I observed for the next hour, standing there like a Buckingham Palace guard, truly unnerved me.

Homophobic bigots wandered the legislative hallways, many of them carrying Bibles or wearing "Save the Family" stickers or even dragging behind them their very own pre-pubescent cheeldren, like tokens of their heterosexual prowess and presumably the objects of their protectionist activism. You could see the fear in their eyes, you could smell the hatred on their breath. It was clear that many of them were outright repulsed by all the fags and dykes swarming around them. There was a palpable tension in the air. The friction between these sexual chauvinists and the sexual minorities could very well have ignited into something awful and tragic, because unlike racism or misogyny or anti-Semitism, homophobia will always be justified in the eyes of Christian fanatics. There is nothing in the Bible that condones the mistreatment of women; there is nothing in the Bible that advocates prejudice against racial minorities. But there is something in the Bible that suggests homosexuality is sinful. So as long as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is taught to the cheeldren in Bible school and perpetually reinforced from the pulpit, no matter how visible gays may become in popular culture and no matter how many legislative victories we may achieve, Christian fundamentalists will always justify their hateful homophobia with the holy righteousness of GOD's word. And in the battle between biblical righteousness and political correctness, gays and lesbians will lose every time. The phrase "Hate the sin, love the sinner" -- often used by self-described compassionate Christians to prove how tolerant and accepting they are -- is little more than a smokescreen that allows them to righteously condemn our so-called "lifestyle" without actually calling us Hell-borne sinners to our faces.

I used to be proud to be Georgian. Thanks to the government, now I'm just angry and sad.