Thursday, May 15, 2008

Freedom to Marry

About twelve hours ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that I have a legal right to marry the spouse of my choice, without the requirement that such a spouse be female. That in and of itself is major, and will cause profound political reverberations throughout the nation, since 12% of the U.S. population lives in California. Up till now, with only Massachusetts granting full marriage rights, most other states could bury their heads in the sand, with their leaders hoping that the issue wouldn't hit home on their watch; now, every corner of the country will have to face the question of how to deal with legally married homos. The issue takes a particular resonance for me right now, since I'm writing this entry in the living room of my friend Howard, who moved from San Francisco to Toronto to legally marry the man he loves.

I was here in December (strangely, not the top season for tourists in Toronto) for their wedding, and nearly all of the people we talked to warmly embraced the soon-to-be-newlyweds, at the supermarket getting the horse-doovers for the reception, at the department store picking out a new toaster oven, at the pet store getting some necessities for Howard's cat in his new home, and everywhere in between, and we're not even in the heart of Toronto. We're out in the suburbs, in a quiet little residential neighborhood where in December you put on the tea kettle before you go see who's at the door. They're much too busy worrying about shoveling the snow off the driveway and figuring out when to plant the tulips to care much about who the neighbor is playing house with. It's a level of nonchalant live-and-let-live that is beyond even San Francisco.

Growing up in Texas, afraid to admit even to myself (let alone to anyone else) that I was gay, I couldn't have imagined a world in which I would some day be able to marry another man. I saw the mayor of Dallas face a recall effort just because he spoke to a group of parents of gay children. I got to college, at a prominent Ivy League school, and it was a sign of progress merely that our gay student group no longer feared a follow-up to the firebombing of its office a few short years earlier. I moved to Silicon Valley, where I helped put together a groundbreaking dance for gay high school and college students — we didn't call it a "prom," and it was much less fancy-schmancy, but it was still a gay multi-school dance — back when most of the country would just laugh in your face if you even suggested such a thing were possible. I moved to the People's Democratic Popular Republic of Berzerkeley, where I made waves even just by kissing my boyfriend on a street corner. Two decades on, I'm living in Sanfrancalifrisco, the city once known as "Bagdad by the Bay," with a gay city council member, a gay assemblyman, a lesbian state senator, a prominent gay politician who made a credible run for mayor in 1999 and 2003, and a Republican governor who, while not willing to press forward for marriage equality, is also not willing to go all out to obstruct it. It still floors me; the reality hasn't even begun to sink in, especially since marrying either a man or a woman remains only a theoretical possibility for your chronically single correspondent.

Here in Toronto and across Canada, the predictions that the sky would fall if gays and lesbians were allowed to marry, have proven so false as to be openly mocked by all but the most rigid of zealots. Even the folks who grumble that it just ain't right, mostly accept it as just the way things are, with far more important issues to busy themselves with — like global warming, the war in Afghanistan (remember that one?), the economy, and yes, the price of gasoline (about C$1.25/litre, which works out to US $4.75 per U.S. gallon). My friends are focused on the immigration paperwork and other legalities like wills and pensions and healthcare, not on whether some group of religious extremists is going to throw a monkey wrench into their lives "because God told us to!!"

Tonight also marks the start of the InsideOut Toronto international LGBT film festival. I didn't make it to tonight's opening gala, but I'll be seeing a number of films, including several Canadian entries. It will be interesting to see how the impending reality [as of 2008-06-14, which will be both Flag Day and Fag Day for California] of gay marriage in California, affects the atmosphere at the festival, since California has more people than all ten provinces of Canada combined. Today is a red-letter day in the history of gay rights in North America, for sure, and will be remembered as a watershed in the struggle for true equality. Of course, just because California is the 36-million-pound gorilla in the room doesn't mean we should forget about Canada or Massachusetts, not to mention the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, or South Africa, but nor should we minimize the significance of such a dramatic shift in the largest of the United States. All the same, I'm going to plunge eyeballs-deep into the world of Québécois documentaries and Spanish real-estate murder mysteries and surfer boys going down under, Down Under. I'll see how the landscape has changed when I get home, right after Memorial Day.

I recently listened to the audiobook version of John Dean's recent book, Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches. Dean uses the term "authoritarian conservatives," borrowed from recent research in social psychology, to describe the faction that has consolidated its control over the Republican Party in the last 40 years, beginning with Richard Nixon. Authoritarians believe that our leaders should be unfettered by any pesky restrictions on their ability to do whatever they believe — or at least claim to believe — is in the best interests of the people, and that the constituents should give unswerving fealty to those leaders, even when they disagree with them. (It is the authoritarian streak in modern "Movement Conservatives" that gives rise to the fallacious comparisons of the "loyal Bushies" to the Nazis, when the differences are still far more salient than the similarities. Their anti-intellectual bent combined with their drive for ideological purity actually more closely follows the Maoist "Cultural Revolution" than the Nazi "Final Solution.") Authoritarians believe that the government should be able to tell you how to live your life, so long as it does so from a god-fearing "conservative" perspective. Authoritarians believe that many of your most basic freedoms should be subject to veto by a simple majority of your fellow citizens. Authoritarians — at least those at the core of President Bush's "base" — believe that women should not be trusted with their own bodies and that adults should not be trusted to marry the adults of their own choosing. They dress up the arguments with religious or faux-cultural arguments, but it comes down to a statement that they know better than I do how I should live my life. It is a mystery to me that such a faction has managed to preserve the support of the more libertarian forms of conservatism. Perhaps this archetypal wedge issue will yet come back to drive a wedge between the authoritarians and the classic conservatives, eroding the odd alliance that foisted George W. Bush upon us.

Canada has its political problems to be sure, not least budgetary woes caused by the same economic trends that are hurting so many in the U.S., but its commitment to the rule of law and the rights of its citizens remains unwavering — something I find quite refreshing after so many years of waterboarding, illegal wars started by deception, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, signing statements, and "Defense" of Marriage laws. It's reassuring, though, to know that I won't have to shovel snow every morning just to live in a place where I can legally marry the man I love ... whenever I get around to finding him.

[cross-posted from my diary on the Daily Kos website]

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