War, Religion, and Gay Rights
In Jerusalem, Muslims and Jews have found common cause: attacking gay people.
A gay pride parade was scheduled for Friday. In Palestinian areas, Muslim leaders vigorously condemned homosexuality as criminal, and in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, Jewish demonstrators staged raucous protests. As a result, organizers canceled the parade. One of them said, "Now we are being dragged back into the dark world of religion."
In US elections last week, while a wave of change was reversing the nation's conservative direction, a counterwave crested, and it, too, attacked gays.
On the ballot in eight states were amendments defining marriage as between a man and woman, a direct repudiation of the right of homosexual couples to marry. In seven of those states, the amendment passed. One of those was Colorado, where a leader of the anti-gay-marriage movement, Pastor Ted Haggard, had, the week before, been forced out of his position as head of New Life Church in Colorado Springs because of an alleged relationship with a male prostitute. In his resignation letter, Haggard confessed, "I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all my adult life."
In Massachusetts, ahead of last week's constitutional convention, the Commonwealth's four Catholic bishops took a rare political initiative, calling on Catholics to pressure legislators to support an anti-gay-marriage amendment here. The convention recessed without taking action, but the bishops had demonstrated the absolute priority of rolling back the right of gays to marry. When public crises are defined by an immoral American war, universal cuts in social services, violence among young people, resurgent nuclear arsenals, rising global inequity, unprecedented jeopardy of the earth itself, why are the bishops obsessed with this particular question?
Same-sex erotic love is not the issue. Humans, including Catholic bishops, have long accommodated it. But that accommodation assumes denial and shame. What brings demonstrators into streets across cultures, and what shows up in the United States as "values" politics, mobilizing bishops, is the movement to bring homosexuality out of the dark.
When gay people openly assert their identities as such, whether through parades or through the demand for full and equal social recognition, reactionaries cannot stand it. Why?
Two answers, one personal and one political. The open affirmation of gay identity can pose a mortal threat to people whose own sexual identity is insecure. The Haggard story is a cautionary tale. As it happens, I was present last year to hear Pastor Ted preach a sermon at his mega-church, and it included a digressive attack on homosexuals that was as venomous and it was gratuitous. He equated gay sex with bestiality.
Even at the time, I wondered about the dark energy of his hatred. That it is revealed now as self-hatred comes as no surprise. One needn't draw a direct line from Haggard's behavior to the private morality of Catholic bishops to sense that the church's own deepening insecurity on all matters of sexuality, especially those surfaced by the still unresolved crisis of priestly sexual abuse of children, informs its exceptional opposition to gay rights.
And so in Jerusalem. The insecurities of male establishments, whose dominance over women is threatened, readily explode in contempt for any expression of gay pride. Patriarchy is at issue.
There is a deflection here, and that points to the political use of gay bashing. At the end of the Cold War, when the Pentagon defined itself as the world's largest closet by decreeing "don't ask, don't tell," the issue of gays in the military was being used to deflect attention from the military's real problem: how to maintain Cold War levels of spending, and a Cold War nuclear arsenal, without a Cold War enemy?
The real "don't ask, don't tell" was "Don't ask us about our budgets and nukes, and we won't tell you about the future wars they will enable." All of the Sturm und Drang about gays in the military deflected American attention from the real issue of the moment, and it worked. The American Cold War ethos is still with us.
The human race is undergoing a massive cultural mutation. The meaning of sexuality is being transformed as biology revolutionizes reproduction. Women are demanding equality across the globe. Men are being forced to reimagine their familial and social roles. Gays and lesbians are at the center of these changes. Their refusal to be silent and invisible is one of the era's great resources, a magnificent sign of hope.
© 2006 The Boston Globe