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“Debate Rape”?

About the time of Massachusetts started allowing gay marriage I began to create emails of what I thought were important news articles or various postings that expressed a new and important idea in the debate. Many times it was even to laugh and wince at the latest Fundie attempts to make us go away. I would usually summarize the article and provide a link to it then mail it out to some close friends and family members. I didn?t get a lot of feedback other than a few people saying they appreciated my efforts. I don?t know how many went on to read the actual articles. Probably not many.

But recently I got a response. It was to my email about the posting by TerranceDC titled ?Real Citizens & Real Leaders? (at http://www.pamshouse…). This is what I wrote:

In their debates, when talking about gay marriage, the Democratic candidates for prez. mumble something nice about civil unions or domestic partnerships. But ask them about actual marriage and nearly all of them claim that the issue should be left up to the states. In other words, they believe in States Rights. Remember the last time when politicians talked of States Rights? It was usually Southern politicians using the term as a code word for being defenders of racial segregation.
To be fair, what should be regulated by the states and what should be regulated by the federal government has been and always will be contentious. But ask candidates about it
  another way — what other group of people do you believe deserve to have their privileges strobe on and off as they travel around the country? How can these same candidates explain that hate crimes laws have to be national? Even though support for gay equality is at an all time high (even support for gay marriage is hovering just under 50%) Democrats are refusing to be real leaders on the issue. Real leaders are for real citizens and only real citizens have nationwide rights.

One friend responded. He is a longtime friend, the first that I felt that I could come out to and know I wouldn?t be rejected. He has been active in ACLU and when a vote came before Kalamazoo barring civil rights laws for gays (back before Michigan?s marriage protection amendment), he and I drove across the state to campaign against it. He is also not shy in challenging my ideas (though, on occasion, I think he challenges me just to stir debate). For a while in 2004 we agreed not to talk politics at our weekly lunches together, not because we were on opposite sides of the debate, but because GOP antics were so frustrating to both of us.

He responded to my original email. I did get his permission to post his words, though he wishes to remain anonymous. I?m sharing it because I think he has a valid (if colorful) point.

Oh, Please.

“In other words, they believe in States Rights.”

…is untrue and unfair. The capital S and R are “debate rape” — they shout where there is need for discussion.

Lots of things are regulated by the states with no federal role. Marriage is one of them — rules on eligibility to marry, waiting times and administrative steps to marry differ somewhat from state to state. The important thing is that all states recognize, legally enforce (and terminate) marriages solemnized in any of them, (and in foreign countries as well). That’s essential — I married in New York State and needed to dissolve that marriage in Ohio (where no-fault divorce is called “dissolution”). Similar national legal standing and recognition will come for civil unions and single-sex marriage as well, in good time via case law and legislation. All the laws and constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage will melt away for all practical purposes within a few decades
  while the Religious Right stews and spits venom. Maybe marriage will wither in favor of civil union in the process — I favor that.

I don’t think there is any federal law that creates or enables marriage in itself or creates a right to marry. (I suppose a state could create chaos by outlawing marriage in its borders. Imagine that… It would inspire a French Revolution in minutes.) Lots of federal, state and local laws, such as tax law, entitlement programs and public education, use the fact or consequences of state-created marriage to treat some Americans preferentially relative to others. I know singles and childless couples who feel discriminated against by the society at large… they envy their married friends’ tax breaks and fringe benefits.

The authors cited here are just troublemakers looking for things to complain about. And their targets? Democrats running for President! Hold them to lofty standards of integrity, consistency and courage, shall we? That’s just political posing, neither fair, decent nor thoughtful. It just adds anger and division where healing and community are needed.

These authors might as well shoot goldfish in their tiny State Fair carnival game fishbowls.

There are occasional problems in communication between us (he thought my complaint against the HRC was an endorsement for Alito) so I wanted to be sure what he was complaining about. I wrote back:

Perhaps I should take a step back and clarify a thing or two, and offer some rebuttal.

From what you wrote (and from previous conversations) you agree that (1) gay marriage is a fine idea, (2) we’ll get there eventually, and (3) pushing Democratic candidates to support gay marriage is worthwhile (recognizing that Republicans are still too bound to the Religious Right and wouldn’t dare touch the issue). Did I get it right so far?

Beyond that…

Yes, you have a point about “debate rape,” it was indeed practiced here. I trust your reaction is to the over-the-top debate tactics and not to the underlying issues. Now are you responding to my summary (which tends to sharpen the debate points) or to the original posting?

The original is by a black gay man in a relationship and raising a son. He is old enough that he experienced the South as it went through the Civil Right’s movement and knows the meaning of States Rights, as his posting explains in detail.

Now to a key point of the original (at least from my perspective). All of the Dem candidates are for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity and for that to take effect at the national level. Yet, when it comes to gay marriage, they want to leave that to the states. Why push for national coverage for job discrimination and allow spotty state coverage for marriage discrimination?

Another aspect of “leaving it to the states” is that by saying so the candidates acknowledge that gay rights are allowed to be up for a vote. You’ve seen the result here in Michigan — the Right wages a campaign of terror filled with lies — “Allowing gays to marry will bring about the downfall of Western Civilization. You can be sure your domestic partner benefits are safe.” But why should rights be up for a vote at all? Would we allow that to happen to any other group of people? In other words, the Dem positions aren’t entirely logical and betray the personal bias of the candidate that gays are not quite citizens yet. Why is it only the rights of gays vary from state to state?

As for holding Democrats to a higher standard — I’d love to hold the Republicans to the same standard, but I know at the moment that is a hopeless cause.

As the original posting laments, this president campaign is leaving gays frustrated at Democrats. The Dem party appears to use gays for ready cash (the gay ATM) but wimps out actually providing a seat at the table. The candidates are starting to say nice things (yeah, I suppose I agree Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should go), but even on issues that have a firm national support they come across as tentative, wanting to not offend the Right (which isn’t going to vote for them anyway). That is especially true on the issue of gay marriage though, admittedly, the rest of the country isn’t solidly behind the issue yet.

From the gay perspective we’re afraid Dems will continue to be wimps on this issue as they have been on too many issues during Bush’s reign. I don’t see it so much as gay posturing as expressing an ongoing frustration.

My friend responded:

I did not read the original. The author’s personal background makes it easier to understand his choice of rabid phrasing, but by so writing, he can only persuade a narrow audience like himself when he could develop ideas all can accept. That is his choice and failure.

“As for holding Democrats to a higher standard — I’d love to hold the Republicans to the same standard, but I know at the moment that is a hopeless cause.”

That is one of the great mistakes made in this country since Reagan. The Republicans are not held accountable for their political positions and do not have to answer for them because there is no hope of changing their minds… But the Republicans are not the audience. The public is the audience and should hear over and over again how anti-community, selfish, bigoted and destructive Republican ideas are, until they turn their backs on those candidates. Instead, progressives have abandoned the stage to the Republicans, who then appeal successfully to all the worst values in people. Greed and selfishness rule these decades. Republican positions should have been condemned loudly and repeatedly on every editorial page and in every column of every media outlet.

“From the gay perspective we’re afraid Dems will continue to be wimps on this issue as they have been on too many issues during Bush’s reign. I don’t see it so much as gay posturing as expressing an ongoing frustration.”

I was expressing my disappointment in the Democrats, too. But they are only humans seeking to survive. In a political context so skewed to selfish right-wing ideas, so anti-human, the Dems seek the center and abandon the progressives.

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Paul K

Paul K