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Groundhog Day

June 9, 2006, 2:15 PM
Dabanner

Despite their fervent denials of evolution, the religious right constantly shows by their own behavior that humanity is more closely related to the rest of the animal kingdom than they would like to admit. Just consider, as an example, how uncannily similar their behavior is to the common groundhog. Just as the groundhog's annual emergence foretells whether there will be a continuation of winter, so too on every even-numbered year in America, the religious right crawls out of its hole. If it sees an upcoming election, then the rest of us know we're in for six more months of anti-gay pandering and bigotry.

As usual, with congressional elections approaching, the Republican party has suddenly rediscovered the urgency of preventing gays from getting married. Accordingly, they proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage in a transparently cynical attempt to appeal to the most bigoted and regressive segments of their base and distract from the disastrous failure of their governing policies. As expected, this amendment went down in flames in the Senate; its backers could not even garner a majority of votes, much less the two-thirds vote needed to pass it, which must have been a particularly embarrassing defeat.

What is new this year is the ludicrously shrill heights of rhetoric deployed by the religious right to support the gay-bashing amendment, perhaps out of recognition that public opinion is trending against them. Republican Senator David Vitter, for example, said, "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one" - this from the representative of a state whose largest city was devastated last year by a hurricane and is still struggling to rebuild.

Not to be outdone in the absurdly-overheated-rhetoric game, the Roman Catholic church recently released a document titled "Family and Human Procreation" in which it called gay marriage "the eclipse of God". This same document says that "never before in history" has the family been so threatened as it is today, and lists among these dire threats not just gay marriage, but the adoption of children by gay couples and lesbians conceiving children through articial insemination, both of which it strongly condemns.

Yes, readers, this is what the Vatican is most concerned about - not millions of people dying of preventable diseases and hunger, not terrorism by armed extremists, not the many brutal dictatorships that do not respect human rights, but gay people who want to get married and raise families. Apparently, although God's omnipotent powers permit him to spin worlds out of the void, part mighty seas and destroy whole cities with fire from heaven, he is helpless to thwart monogamous homosexuals and the judges who rule in their favor. (Gay people, it seems, are God's Kryptonite.)

But the prize for hysteria must surely go to Republican strategist Jack Burkman, said that the gay marriage issue is "five times as important as the war on terror and the war in Iraq combined". Can we take this to mean that, if given a choice between preventing both 9/11 and the Iraq war and banning gay marriage, the Republicans would choose the latter without hesitation? Do they really believe that their vendetta against homosexuals is more important than over 5500 American lives? I have often said that one of the primary evils of religion is that it convinces people to value dogma over human life, but even I am stunned by the brazenness with which the religious right proclaims its allegiance to that same principle.

To anyone not acquainted with how religious right politics work, this fever pitch of obsession makes no sense. One would think that religious conservatives, even if they were opposed to gay marriage, could state that opposition without believing that it is the single most important thing in the world or couching the struggle in literally apocalyptic language. Any rational observer would conclude that when committed, monogamous gays living together are seen as a greater threat than Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center, that is the time for conservatives to seriously reappraise just how obsessed they have become and consider stepping back from the brink of insanity.

But, as I said, that presupposes a rational observer, and religious right politics have nothing to do with reason. On the contrary, their entire strategy consists of whipping their followers into a blind frenzy of emotion so that they will support their leaders without questioning or thinking. The higher a fever pitch they can stir their followers to, the better. It matters not at all how comically out of proportion their rhetoric is when compared to the actual seriousness of the issue. Eugene Volokh speaks of the "ACLU Derangement Syndrome", in which the mere invocation of the name of that civil liberties group renders right-wing partisans incapable of rational thought, and this is insightful as far as it goes, but I think he has missed the larger point: the religious right's entire political platform is nothing but a string of derangement syndromes. Their concerns extend no farther than the latest boogeyman that can be dragged out and waved around to incite their farthest-right-wing supporters to stampede to the polls, following which they are promptly shoved back into the closet and ignored until the next election. But on anything other than symbolic issues, the religious right is utterly incompetent and utterly incapable of governing.

The hopeful corollary to this point is that when people think for themselves, liberals win elections. When people consider the issues rationally and do not allow themselves to be led by the nose by politicians who appeal to prejudice and fear, liberals win elections. All it will take for the forces of liberty to win this civil rights struggle, as we have won so many struggles in the past, is to embed one simple question into the public consciousness: How would allowing gay marriage harm traditional heterosexual marriage, exactly? Despite all their bile, the religious right has never answered and can never answer this question without showing clearly just how irrational and ridiculous their beliefs are. If I choose to marry in the future, it will be because I have decided that I have found a woman whom I love and with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. Other considerations affecting that decision may include desire to raise a family, a need for companionship, and the effect it will have on our taxes and other civil and legal benefits. Whether gays can get married too, I assure my readers, will play absolutely no part in this decision. Why should what other people want to do with their lives be of any concern to me in deciding what I want to do with my life?

The only reason I can imagine why gay marriage would negatively affect my own marriage would be if I got married as a taunt, to rub homosexuals' faces in the fact that our society approves of my sexual orientation and not theirs. Perhaps this is indeed why many prominent religious right figures are married; but if so, it speaks poorly of them that their entire lives are premised upon excluding, discriminating against, and hating others. The humanist way of finding happiness through the happiness of others is far superior.

 

Groundhog Day

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