Gays and the GOP: Still Where We Always Were

Is the Republican party finally starting to come to its senses on the question of treating the gays with a modicum of dignity?  On the surface of things, it appears that may indeed be the case.  Every few months for the past few years, news is made when a prominent Republican, such as Laura Bush or Meghan McCain, publicly state their support the gay rights movement.  The fact that it’s newsworthy has nothing to do with the fact not that it’s official Republican policy (it’s not), but because it’s so far out of the mainstream of Republican political thought these days that it’s a novelty.

Recent developments in the past month have given some cause to think otherwise.  A laundry list of Republican notables signed onto an amicus brief in support of marriage equality for upcoming litigation in connection with the Defense of Marriage Act and California Proposition 8.  The list includes a bevy of conservatives from the northeast, former members of Congress and governors, party officials and campaign strategists.  Also of note, Jon Huntsman also came out in favor of marriage equality this past week, becoming the only GOP presidential contender from the past electoral cycle to have done so.  And S.E. Cupp, conservative commentator, refused an invitation to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, due to their continued exclusion of GOProud, a gay Republican (shudder) activist group.

This is progress, to be sure.  But the fact of the matter is this: Republican officials, be they members of Congress, legislators or governors, the ones currently in office and holding the reins of power, stand in stark contrast to these newly vocal fellow Republicans on this issue.  Bashing gay rights is still red meat for the base of the GOP, and no matter how many notable party officials, former elected officials and wives and children of former officials come out in favor of gay marriage, when it comes down to the calculus of power on the issue, the Republican party is still the same homophobic organization that they were when dialogue on the issue first started about twenty years ago.

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Bombing in Syria: The Inside Job

Things seem to be heating up in Syria.  Yesterday, three high-ranking officials (the defense minister, deputy defense minister and the head of the crisis management office) in the al-Assad regime were killed and two wounded (the interior minister and the head of the national security bureau).  Rebel groups claimed to have planted the bomb a day before in a room where the senior leadership of the regime would be meeting.

This brings to mind the failed July 20th, 1944 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler at his bunker in Rastenburg by members of the German officer corps.  Along with a senior cadre of German military officers, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg brought a bomb in a briefcase into a briefing in which Hitler was present.  The bomb detonated, but due to the fact that it was placed under the table and the bunker itself was constructed of concrete, it merely injured Hitler, failing to kill him.  After the attempt, Hitler initiated a purge of the ranks of the German military, which, if anything, hastened the end of the war.

This has parallels to what happened in Damascus yesterday.  You don’t pull off an operation of this caliber without inside connections.  Meaning, someone within the regime sees the writing on the wall and is hoping to at least draw this conflict down before the killings turn into something more genocidal.  Yes, the killing in Syria has claimed the lives of at least 15,000 individuals, but if the al-Assad regime begins to use chemical weapons and really deploy its air force, then the death toll will begin skyrocketing at that point.

So why would the al-Assad regime do this?  Well, they don’t really have any other choice.  They either survive, or they end up on the docket in the Hague once they capitulate.  And in the off chance that the members of the regime actually succeed, it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that they might conceivably be running Syria in a few years.  If they throw in the towel and flee to Russia, then they’re done, and the leadership of the country will be in permanent exile, unable to travel, and living only on whatever money that they’re able to bring with them in suitcases (literally) and funds that they have stashed away in Swiss accounts, which would likely be frozen.

The battle for Damascus is intensifying, and the only way that a massive blood letting could be forestalled is if the West intervenes.  As that is rather unlikely, I’d expect many, many more people to die in the coming months than have previously, and for the region as a whole to become much more unstable.

Germany: Where Muslims & Jews Agree

So, Muslims and Jews, when it comes to many spheres of live, don’t really get along.  There’s a lot of reasons for it, but mostly having to do with Israel.  I won’t bother with a long-winded historical analysis of all of the reasons, but, suffice it to say that there’s a lot of bad blood.  But, one in one area, they agree: circumcision.  A German court found against circumcisions in a case where the procedure went wrong, arguing that it amounted to bodily harm, and that the right of bodily integrity trumps the parental right to religious expression.

The Jewish and Muslim communities in Germany, in a nearly unheard of display of unity, bound together to fight what they perceived as a threat to their respective faiths.  The backlash against the court has prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to go on the record to the effect that it ought to be a right.

I don’t really have an opinion, one way or the other, but this does go into the category of when the religion of the parents has an irreversible impact on the life of the child, such as when a parent may have moral or religious objections to vaccinations, and opts not to have them performed, causing the child to fall ill with something preventable, like polio.  There’s not going to be a resolution on the issue either, but rather a gradual societal shift, most likely away from circumcisions.  After all, now that every day bathing is universal in the West, the need for the procedure today, as compared to sweltering Palestine two thousand years ago, there’s just not the same need in physical or hygienic terms.

One Step Forwards, One Step Back

So, gays are getting a lot of press these days.  On the one hand, you have a sitting American President coming out in favor of gay marriage.  President Obama did so with qualifications, hedging a bit, but, overall, his endorsement of marriage equality is a huge step forward, not just for gays, but for all of us.  While polls have indicated that the country is pretty evenly split on the issue, the trajectory that public opinion is taking makes this an issue that’s not going to be much of one for a whole hell of a lot longer.  I would argue that within ten years, the majority of states in this country will allow same-sex marriage, and shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court will have no choice but to strike down the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act that allow states not to recognize out-of-state gay marriages.

This is an issue on which the public has changed positions with breathtaking speed.  Just a decade ago, support for same-sex marriage was, by comparison, miniscule.  Over the course of the decade, people, much as the President, ‘evolved.’  This issue seems to be progressing faster than anyone has previously anticipated.  Vice President Joe Biden seemed to chalk it up to the NBC sitcom Will & Grace.  And while I’m sure that cultural depictions of gays had something to do with it, I think what probably shifted opinion more than just TV.  Everyone, it seems, knows someone who is gay.  It’s much harder to actively oppose gay rights when you know people who are gay.

On the other hand, you have Mitt Romney.  Aptly timed with the President’s policy shift this week, classmates of his from Cranbrook Academy in Michigan revealed that he assaulted a classmate who was presumed gay.  According to reports, he pinned the poor guy down and cut his hair in order to teach the kid a ‘lesson,’ or something.  Romney has responded in the fashion that we’ve come to expect from him.  Sorry, don’t remember the incident, but if I did, and hurt anyone’s feelings, my apologies.  Classmates involved in the incident vividly recall it, and feel horrible about it.  The reason that I use the term ‘assault’ is that one of the guys involved, who was voiced considerable remorse and regret over it, is an attorney, and used the term himself.

The President shifting positions on gay marriage won’t do a lot to change the election.  But allegations of Mitt Romney acting in such a fashion just might.  It reinforces the narrative that he’s the kind of guy that’s simply unable to empathize with others.  Registering an ‘apology’ of the tenor that he offered does more good than harm.  Painting it as a youthful prank is, at best, and true to form, disingenuous.  Holding down a terrified, closeted adolescent and shearing off his hair because you suspect he’s gay isn’t a prank, these days, it would be considered a hate crime.  Such is the caliber of the two men we have running for President.

The Gay Marriage ‘Gaffe’

Who doesn’t love Vice President Joe Biden?  He’s like your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, going off and saying the things everyone is thinking, but noone dares to utter out loud.  Case in point: this weekend, he came out as being personally in favor of same-sex marriage.  No pun intended.  Then, Education Secretary Arne Duncan did the same.  The White House reiterated that these statements reflected the personal sentiments of those involved, and do not represent Administration policy.  President Obama has stated that while he does not favor same-sex marriage at this point, his stance on the issue continues to ‘evolve.’

Since he’s taken office, he has put up a reasonably good fight for gay rights, dropping the outdated Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy, instructing the Office of the Solicitor General to stop arguing for the Defense of Marriage Act in federal courts, and courting gay supports in a much more visible manner than previous administrations.  But, at least publicly, he hasn’t been able to bring himself to tacitly endorse the idea of same-sex marriage before the electorate, even though it’s widely assumed that privately, he has no problems with it.  Many people think that it’s just the political considerations that are stopping him from issuing a full-throated statement backing the idea.

This reminds me somewhat of the position that Bill Clinton took on the issue when he was in office.  He publicly disavowed it, and later regretted it.  He only came out in favor of same-sex marriage once he left office.  While his sentiments are appreciated, they’re no substitute for the real deal, presidential backing for the extension of marriage equality for all Americans.  And while President Obama does have to contend with an upcoming election, which complicates positions on pretty much any political issue, the time has come for him to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

This isn’t 1995, when the idea was new and scary, even to many gay Americans.  By this point, everyone in the country knows of at least a few people who are gay, and in my estimate, that fact is what’s turned the tide of public opinion in favor of gay marriage.  A majority of Americans now back the idea, and that trend is only growing stronger.  Vice President Biden’s ‘gaffe’ was viewed as Joe being Joe, a chatty pol that’s liable to shoot his mouth off.  So he is.  But his statement reflected the reality to which everyone’s already reconciled themselves: that this will be the last Presidential election where the Democratic candidate is not an all-out supporter of same sex marriage.

UN to US: Give Native Americans Land

The UN has a bum rap in the United States.  Some of it is undeserved, much of it is.  In speaking with people connected to the UN, I get the distinct feeling that it’s basically a country club for third world nations, where nothing ever gets done, and indulging in bureaucratic rituals is far more important than delivering concrete results.

Supporting this thinking is a story making the rounds that a special UN investigator is calling for the US to restore tribal lands to Native American tribes.  This kind of story does nothing but reinforce that narrative that the UN is pursuing the impossible at the expense of the less grandiose, but feasible.  Sure, restoring tribal lands sounds great in theory, but a land restoration program won’t fundamentally alter the sorry state of affairs that characterizes most Native American communities.  We don’t live in an agricultural society anymore where territory brings riches and influence.

If anything, effective and well-calibrated federal policies focusing on education, health, jobs and infrastructure would do more to demonstrably improve the day to day lives of Native Americans, far more than a simple land transfer could ever hope to accomplish.  This isn’t 1860, where when you acquire a large chunk of land, the automatic consequences are increased wealth and power.  Now, what translates into wealth and power is skills and health, preferably on a sustainable basis.  That, far more than land, would correct the historic injustice that’s occurred here over the past four centuries.  Not giving the Ogala Sioux a chunk of the Dakotas.

Don’t Say Gay

Missouri has never been known as the most progressive of states, and they’re not doing themselves any favors these days.  The state legislature is considering a bill that would effectively ban the discussion of homosexuality and preclude the existence of school-affiliated gay-straight alliances.  The bill is known as ‘Don’t Say Gay‘ and it’s become the focus of rather biting, rightfully, media attention, as state GOP lawmakers attempt to turn back the clock to a day where gays, presumably, didn’t speak out.  One Republican state lawmaker outed himself, somewhat laudably, but also noted that he’s not going to run for another term.

Earlier this week, Romney campaign spokesman Richard Grenell, whose portfolio included responsibilities in connection with foreign affairs, resigned after pressure from the laughably named American Family Association created the situation for Grenell.  Romney’s said nothing on the issue, and allowed Grenell to resign.  In sum, the Republican party has taken the position that they historically have on us gays, namely, that we exist, they rather we wouldn’t do so quite so vocally or visibly, and they welcome our support, as long as it’s not overt (as in working for their campaigns) and so long as we support their anti-gay agenda.

Nobody questions that the Republican party has gotten much, much more conservative over the past few decades.  From women to immigrants, gays to unions, the party has taken a sharply more adversarial position on nearly every constituent group that isn’t either predominantly white, Christian or male.  The problem for Republicans is that while this more assertive stance towards many groups will satisfy their base, that base, relative to everyone else (gays, women, Latinos, unions, etc.) is declining, and soon, if the party is to exist as a national force in politics, they’ll have to move towards the left regarding these groups.

But that’s not going to happen.  That vocal rural, fundamentalist base dominates the GOP today, more so than at any other point in its history.  The party leadership is aware of the demographic shifts that are changing the face of America, but the rank and file of primary voters aren’t, and even if they were, it wouldn’t likely change their voting patterns, as they’re convinced that what they’re doing is God’s work, and as such, are constitutionally and operationally incapable of compromise on these issues.

That spells doom for the Republican party.  Bad for them, good for everyone who isn’t in their ever-shrinking tent.  No longer can the GOP carry the moniker of the Big Tent.