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."

* * *

That said, maybe you gay folk could make things a little easier for our slower brethren—and for the Democrats who see this issue as a Nader in leather that might lose them this election.

The word that seems to be sticking in everyone's craw is "marriage." I can see why gay couples wouldn't be content with the current alternative: "civil union" sounds too much like "Geo Metro." So, come on, you creative people, can't we come up with a new and better word for this new adventure into commitment so that others can still cling to the sanctity of their precious old word?

I'm not coming up with much myself. Metromony? Nuptialingus? So, a contest: to the person who comes up with the best new name for marriage, I will award a pewter Passion Nail™ necklace, the official jewelry of The Passion of the Christ, and a damn handy thing to have if vampires attack you.

* * *

On another battlefront, conservatives—you know, the guys who want government to stop meddling in your lives—are continuing their full-press war on what you can see and hear. House Republicans, joined by Democrat-hating Democrat Zell Miller, planned to introduce legislation this week to increase fines for broadcast "indecency" from $27,500 to $500,000 per incident. That's equal to the maximum fine polluters face for willfully and fraudulently poisoning us via violations of the Clean Air Act, except, of course, the Bush administration has gutted and all but stopped enforcing that act. So it's a win-win: if your daughter hears Howard Stern say "anal," she'll probably be too wracked with asthma to repeat it.

Miller had the brilliant idea of basing the severity of the fine on the number of viewers or listeners exposed. That might almost make sense in the case of Janet Jackson's January Surprise, but most personalities, such as Stern, perversely would face greater fines for the very fact that they attract more listeners wanting to hear that sort of content. How does that jibe with a free-market philosophy?

Broadcasters are falling over themselves proclaiming their newfound prudishness, and it isn't just Clear Channel. "Alternative" Santa Monica City College powerhouse KCRW just fired Sandra Tsing Loh, one of its best commentators, because she'd used an objectionable word on the air. And you'll probably notice me using the word golly in place of fuck a lot more.

The Ashcroft Justice Department, meanwhile is arguing a case before the Supreme Court appealing a lower court's ruling that a law limiting Internet porn is unconstitutional. Dubbed the Child Online Protection Act, the law would keep minors from seeing online porn by effectively getting rid of it.

Americans like porn. In fact, there are more people who like bush than who like Bush. According to a government study, some 70 million of us view online porn every week, which is a whacking 20 million more Americans than who voted for Bush in 2000. Still, Ashcroft and Co. march on to save us from succumbing to the sight of unclothed people making nice to each other, in order that our kids might instead view nonstop images of people shooting, hacking, stabbing, flailing, rending, exploding, burning and maiming one another.

Golly. Pardon me while I go pound some Passion Nails™ into my eyes.

SEND YOUR CONTEST ENTRIES AND VERBAL ODDMENTS TO JWASHBURN@OCWEEKLY.COM.

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