Darn It, There are Still Some Single Gay People

And the odd case of bush vs. Bush

Much has happened on the gay-marriage front since I wrote about it here a couple of weeks ago. The spontaneous acts of marriage springing up from San Francisco to New York (hello, Omaha!) remind me of civil disobedience I've seen before, not here but in the Soviet Union. I was there during the thaw known as glasnost, and the way that worked was nobody in power ever gave permission to do anything that was previously forbidden. Instead, people took chances: a couple of artists might mount anti-government posters on a wall, or musicians would sing protest songs, or township officials would allow more free enterprise. These acts previously could have earned them years in medieval-quality prisons, and no one was saying they wouldn't now, either. But when a few people tried freedom and didn't get whacked, more people joined in, and the next thing you know, June was busting out all over. It was a risky but very organic path to social change.

Things are different here, of course, what with the Bush administration fomenting its own little anti-glasnost, with fear, intolerance and a clampdown on diverging views being their special expression of Christian love. Officials performing same-sex marriages face criminal prosecution, while President Bush is pushing a constitutional amendment to ban the marriages, the only time in its 216-year history (aside from prohibition) when the Constitution would be used to limit rather than protect individual liberties.

* * *

Being gay is a hot-button issue in this country. Remember when the freshly inaugurated Bill Clinton tried issuing an executive order allowing gays in the military? He got such an ass-kicking from congressional conservatives that his administration regained its initial momentum only after he balanced the budget and presided over the longest economic expansion in history. Remember Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blaming homosexuals and fellow travelers for Sept. 11? Any right-thinking nation would have shunned them, but they're still the go-to holy rollers on TV. It's little wonder that when it comes to the topic of gay marriage, John Kerry and his former Democratic rivals are phoning in their views from the Waffle House.

With the prospect of Bush's wrecking crew getting four more years in office, this is a damn inconvenient time for same-sex marriages to be sprouting all over the place. But freedom happens in the present. Now is the only moment you can ever change, and a lot of brave people are seizing that moment.

* * *

I don't know that anyone has the right to expect someone else to wait for freedom. I always think of an illustrative story from the civil-rights era. As recounted in the book, Backbeat, Earl Palmer's Story, session musician Palmer—who pretty much invented rock drumming—was at the lunch table with several other players, and one of the white musicians started complaining about how the blacks marching, organizing and getting beat with ax handles in the South were being too pushy. They have to be patient, he said, and asked Palmer, who is black, "Don't you agree?"

"Man, that's a rough question," Palmer answered and hemmed and hawed, but all the while his foot was stepping, harder and harder, on the other guy's toe.

"Hey, you're hurting my toe!"

"Have a little patience, man. I'll get off in a minute," Palmer said.

Injustice is never easy to bear, and if you don't think gays are being done an injustice, I'd refer you to Joe Bell's typically excellent column in last Thursday's Daily Pilot, where he talks about a neighbor couple. They are two women who have spent decades working—for us and at personal risk to themselves—in law enforcement, yet when one of their children had a bad cut, one parent couldn't get her admitted to an emergency room because that parent wasn't legally "legal." Put yourself in that position, and see how you'd feel about waiting another five or 50 years until everyone else was feeling comfy about your basic rights as a human being.

You know something? I haven't always been comfortable with gay men showing their affection in public, dancing close and smooching and all that. But that was in the '80s, and some of us have grown up a little since. And even then I realized it was my problem, and there was no reason on earth why it should be theirs. It wasn't like the world exactly had a surplus of love and affection. The more people who can find and express it, the better.

* * *

Sadly, there are still a lot of people who'll watch Ellenor see Elton and will make a big show of treating the gay guy or gal at work as if they're nearly human beings, but they don't understand this impatience for equality. They're sort of like the people I call "Frank Sinatra liberals," who 40 years ago extended "tolerance" to oppressed blacks but who weren't so happy about the new generation of militants who weren't interested in white people "giving" them an equality they were finally seizing for themselves.

Jeez, gay people, isn't it enough that we don't give you shock treatment for your "illness" anymore and don't imprison and murder you often as you used to be? Shouldn't you slow down and stop being so uppity? Of course not. As Curtis Mayfield once sang—same song, earlier verse—"You can't stop us on the road to freedom."

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