Feb 29 2012

 

 

Frank-rich

Let's face it, The New York Times Sunday Edition has just not been the same since writer and commentator Frank Rich left for New York Magazine. In fact it is worth subscribing to New York even if you live in Omaha to just read one of the most brilliant and thoughtful writers of our time. Even better, he now has more space and once a month writes the most eloquent and passionate articles without being confined to space issues.

Long a supporter for equal rights for LGBT Americans, Rich has written an extremely important piece about the recent victories around marriage equality and especially the New York Victory. Rich wants us to remember in these times of increasing momentum toward marriage equality that we just can't forget the checkered history with both Republicans and Democrats.

Here are some excerpts from a very long article which you owe it to yourself to read by clicking here.

Rich writes:

Compared with the other civil-rights battles in America, especially the epic struggle over race that has stained and hobbled the nation since its birth, the fight over gay equality is remarkable for its relative ease, compact chronology, and the happiness of its pending resolution. There’s no happier ending to any plot than a wedding. But, as last June’s celebration has gradually given way to morning-after sobriety, it’s also clear that something is wrong with this cheery picture. Two things, actually.

The first is obvious: Full equality for gay Americans is nowhere near at hand. One of America’s two major political parties is still hell-bent on thwarting and even rolling back gay rights much as Goldwater Republicans and Dixie Democrats (on their way to joining the GOP) resisted civil-rights legislation and enforcement in the sixties. In most states, sexual orientation can still be used to deny not only marriage but also jobs and housing, as well as to curtail adoption rights. America’s dominant religions remain largely hostile to homosexuality, and America’s most cherished secular pastime, professional sports, is essentially a no-gay zone. The bullying of gay and transgendered children remains a national crisis. While Nielsen tells us that gay concerns and characters are the new mainstream of television figuring in 24 percent of broadcast prime-time programming last season we do not yet live in the United States of Glee.

The second thing that’s wrong with the picture is far less obvious because it has been willfully obscured. In the outpouring of provincial self-congratulation that greeted the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, some of the discomforting history that preceded that joyous day has been rewritten, whitewashed, or tossed into a memory hole. We and by we, I mean liberal New Yorkers like me, whether straight or gay, and their fellow travelers throughout America would like to believe that the sole obstacles to gay civil rights have been the usual suspects: hidebound religious leaders both white and black, conservative politicians (mostly Republican), fundamentalist Christian and Muslim zealots, and unreconstructed bigots. What’s been lost in this morality play is the role that many liberal politicians and institutions have also played in slowing and at some junctures halting gay civil rights in recent decades.

It was, after all, the trustees of the Smithsonian Institution, not a Bible Belt cultural outpost, who bowed to pressure from the militant Catholic League just fifteen months ago to censor the work of a gay American artist who had already been silenced, long ago, by AIDS. It was a Democratic president, with wide support from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who in 1996 signed the Defense of Marriage Act, one of the most discriminatory laws ever to come out of Washington. It’s precisely because of DOMA that to this day same-sex marriages cannot be more than what you might call placebo marriages in the eight states (plus the District of Columbia) that have legalized them. DOMA denies wedded same-sex couples all federal benefits some 1,000, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans’ programs and allows the other 42 states to ignore their marriages altogether.

Rich goes into the history around the time of Anita Bryant (photogaph):

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The Cuomo-Koch contest played out just as explosive battles over gay rights were being joined around the country. It was in 1977 that Harvey Milk won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming California’s first openly gay official a victory that would end with his assassination the following year. It was also in 1977 that Anita Bryant, a pop singer and onetime Miss America runner-up, mounted her Save Our Children campaign to repeal a Miami ordinance protecting homosexuals from discrimination in jobs and housing. Bryant called gay people �an abomination, but such invective didn’t prevent her cause from winning the endorsement of the Dade County Democratic Party or of Florida’s governor, Reubin Askew, a Democrat so progressive that George McGovern had offered him the vice-presidential slot on the 1972 ticket. The anti-gay rage whipped up around Miami by this crusade inspired the bumper sticker KILL A QUEER FOR CHRIST and the beating and hospitalization of a gay man. Once Bryant’s referendum won, by more than a two-to-one margin, thousands of New Yorkers marched from Sheridan Square to Columbus Circle in protest. But repeated efforts by New York activists to get their own City Council to extend the city’s Human Rights Law to include gay citizens had died in committee two years earlier and would not be passed until 1986.

The journalist writes about the struggles with Clinton and DOMA:

Bill Clinton has also worked hard to spin and skate away from his history on gay issues. His presidential record looks good only when contrasted with the literally lethal passivity of Ronald Reagan, who didn’t think AIDS warranted a speech until 1987, six years into the epidemic and his presidency. Reagan is a very low bar, and that lets Clinton off the hook for a legacy that’s had a far more lasting and egregious impact than any failings, youthful or otherwise, of Andrew Cuomo. Clinton knows it, too. In his thousand-page memoir, My Life, he somehow didn’t find the space to so much as mention the Defense of Marriage Act. While don’t ask, don’t tell can be rationalized (by some) as a bungled rookie effort at compromise during his early months in office, DOMA is indefensible. Though now deemed unconstitutional by the Obama Justice Department and, last week, by a Bush-appointed federal judge in Californiait is still in full force.

The bill was strictly a right-wing political ploy cooked up for the year of Clinton’s re-election campaign. It had no other justification. In the spring of 1996, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal anywhere in the country or a top-tier cause for many gay leaders; it was solely in play in a slow-moving court case in Hawaii. But fear and demonization of gay men was off the charts: In 1995, a record 50,877 Americans with AIDS died a one-year count rivaling the 58,000 Americans lost in the entire Vietnam War. The Christian Coalition, under the Machiavellian guidance of the yet-to-be-disgraced Ralph Reed, saw an opening to exploit homophobia to galvanize a Republican base unenthusiastic about Bob Dole. In a consummate display of bad taste, Clinton announced that he would sign DOMA that spring just two days after the Supreme Court, in a rare national victory for gay rights, struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that had barred anti-discrimination laws benefiting gay men and lesbians. In the months to come, Clinton’s stand on DOMA gave political permission to many nominally liberal Democrats to join Rick Santorum, Jesse Helms, and Larry Craig in voting for the bill that Septemberamong them Charles Schumer (then in the House) and the senators Joe Biden, Tom Harkin, Frank Lautenberg, Patrick Leahy, Joe Lieberman, Carl Levin, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, and Harry Reid. Only fourteen senators, also Democrats, had the courage to vote against it.

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When the time came for Clinton to sign DOMA, he was sufficiently embarrassed that he did so at midnight. He declared in a statement that the legislation’s enactment should not provide an excuse for discrimination, violence or intimidation against any person on the basis of sexual orientation. Two years later, Matthew Shepard would be strung up in Wyoming, and a decade later George W. Bush, in league with Karl Rove, would make a statement almost identical to Clinton’s when he endorsed a constitutional marriage amendment in a similar election-year pander. As this debate goes forward, Bush intoned in 2006, every American deserves to be treated with tolerance and respect and dignity. Like Clinton, he knew he was enabling the exact opposite. While the family-values ayatollahs who gathered for Bush’s announcement had expected a Rose Garden event, someone in the White House felt guilty enough to offload the dirty deed into the shadows a furtive ten-minute presidential appearance in a small auditorium in the Executive Office Building.

Neither Bush nor Clinton has ever owned up to what he did, let alone made amends for it. At a Human Rights Campaign forum for presidential candidates in 2007, Melissa Etheridge had the nerve to confront Hillary Clinton for her husband’s record of having thrown gay Americans under the bus while in office a charge that Bill Clinton would dismiss later as a slight rewriting of history. It’s Clinton who has done the rewriting, and not slightly, claiming that DOMA was a reasonable compromise in the environment of the time. Reasonable for his own political calculation, yes, but hardly for the gay Americans who have paid for it ever since.

Rich concludes with an emotional and passionate reminder:

That’s why the celebrations in New York last June, while merited, must be seen as provisional. That’s also why Democratic leaders who profess fierce advocacy of gay civil rights must be held to account. Back in a day that was only yesterday, too many of them also fell silent and when it counted most. While same-sex weddings are indeed a happy ending, they are haunted by the ghosts of many gay men, too many of them forgotten, who died tragically and unnecessarily while too many good people did nothing. Like Andrew Cuomo, those good people could yet make a big difference and, in the bargain, exorcise the multitude of past sins they keep hoping the rest of us will forget.