What a wonderful image of democracy and tolerance the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has presented to the world by allowing same-sex marriages. At a time when elements of the U.S. military machine have perverted homosexual acts into a form of torture, the sight of responsible and joyful gay adults freely choosing the commitment of marriage could not be more timely.
The lesson is that freedom is indivisible. In Massachusetts, it is up to the individual and not the state to define the essence of the human experience when it comes to love and marriage. It should make us proud patriots that the battle for freedom has won new ground and that full human rights are sacred in at least one state of the nation that claims to lead the free world.
Yes, human rights, for unless homosexuals are granted full civil rights, no other rights are secure. Hitler proved that by exterminating the "abnormal ones," whose pink triangles marked them for death, alongside the Jews. Homosexuals were a favored target of the Taliban goons in Afghanistan, who routinely crushed gays to death under a wall of stones. And they were once interned in camps in Fidel Castro's Cuba.
Sexual fascism — the violent denial of the fundamental right of human beings to define their essential nature in an open and accountable manner — is at the heart of totalitarianism, whether in an Islamic, a Christian or a Marxist context.
Yet, despite living in a democratic society, we are not immune to exploiting sex as a means of social control. U.S. sodomy laws — until last year's Supreme Court ruling in a Texas case — made gay sex between consenting adults illegal. At the same time, the U.S. prison system practically institutionalizes male-on-male rape as a form of punishment and intimidation.
And now comes the scandal of Abu Ghraib, which appears to go far beyond a few reservists on an S&M power trip.
Because of the severe psychological consequences of sexual humiliation for conservative Muslims, U.S. military jailers have been routinely stripping Arab prisoners and taking nude photos of them in camps and prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. According to Seymour Hersh in the May 24 New Yorker, this practice was not devised by deranged reservists at the bottom of the military hierarchy at Abu Ghraib but came from the top — from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"Rumsfeld and [Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen] Cambone … expanded the scope of [a top-secret intelligence-gathering program], bringing its unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. The commandos were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation," reports Hersh, relying on insider intelligence sources. The Pentagon denies it authorized abuse but has admitted to having a policy of routinely allowing prisoners to be stripped naked and in other ways humiliated.
If the goal in Iraq was really to win hearts and minds to the American model of democracy, why would Rumsfeld impose such a shortsighted policy of torture? Was this ends-justify-the-means cynicism or just an act of desperation to save a tragically stupid war?
In the end, the irony is grim: The U.S. military bans openly gay soldiers but apparently does not effectively screen out heterosexual sadists. Meanwhile, at home the president tries desperately to make an election-year issue out of preventing free adults from civilly consecrating same-sex partnerships.
Unfortunately, there are many in this country, at least in the political class, who claim to support the rights of the individual abroad while struggling to limit them at home. Yet, as with classic images from earlier civil rights movements, such as that of a poised black girl walking to school through a jeering crowd, the dramatic scenes of joy and love now unfolding in Massachusetts are likely to be looked back upon by future generations with a "what took us so long?" relief.
Bush has condemned the Massachusetts high court for tampering with the "traditional values" enshrined in the Constitution. But we should be grateful for such tampering, or we would still have slavery and women still would not be allowed to vote.
Robert Scheer writes a weekly column for The Times and is coauthor of "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq"
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times