Death was one rite of passage that could not be denied gay people. Back when they weren’t allowed to get married or adopt children, or sometimes even hold jobs, unless they concealed their true selves, they would still die, just like regular folks. Newspapers were then sometimes called upon to write their obituaries.
Which posed a problem, back in the 1980s. Because their unofficial partners, the people who loved them and knew them best, their spouses without paperwork, while very real, could not be included in the printed summations of their lives. Newspapers had standards to maintain. We had rules, policies.
That began to chafe, as AIDS scythed through the community. Barring their loved ones, who often cared for them while their disapproving blood relations turned their backs, seemed too cruel, even for daily journalism. Dodges were found. “He was a wonderful man,” said his “close friend,” or “longtime companion,” or “roommate.”
The effort to catch government attention and actually fight AIDS helped break the silence — “Silence = Death,” remember? As the LGBTQ community stepped out of the shadows, it became harder to marginalize. It turned out that a significant part of the population is gay. They were brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.
And all the reasons — haters always have reasons, they lack the courage, the honesty to admit their own bottomless fear and baseless loathing — for denying them regular rites of passage turned out to be nonsense. Allowing gays to marry did not destroy the institution for straights any more than allowing them to die undercut the solemnity of funerals. What legal same-sex marriage meant was less insecurity, more happy families, less abuse, more children with two-parent homes.
That gay marriage became legal nationwide in 2015 through a Supreme Court ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, only speaks to the partisan gridlock and moral cowardice of Congress. But what the court can do, the court can undo, as we’ve seen with the reversal of Roe v. Wade, taking the private reproductive choices of women, protected for nearly half a century, and thrusting them into the public eye, making them the business of literally any keyhole-peeper who decides to wonder why a woman or girl went out of town for a long weekend.
Nor is that the end. Emboldened, the same far-right Christian fanatics behind the reversal of Roe are licking their lips and deciding what scorned group to squash back down next.
Waiting for the axe, on Tuesday the House passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires states to honor marriages that are legal elsewhere. It would prevent the 30 states that have laws ready to bar gay marriage from doing so when the Supreme Court decides that, whoops, gays aren’t human beings after all. That 47 Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill could be a triumph of practical politics over religious pandering. Or you could point out that 157 Republicans voted against the bill, willing to strip 3% of Americans of a basic human right, just to score points with the energized zealots back home.
You could find it encouraging that the religious right has abandoned, for the most part, the canard that letting gays marry somehow wrecks their own unions, or that gays make worse parents (actually, gays make demonstrably better parents; where do you think adoptive kids come from?) Instead, those who spoke at the Congressional debate this week raised specious notions about politics and respect for the Supreme Court.
“We are debating this bill today because it is an election year,” said Trump lapdog Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “We are here for political messaging.”
Actually, they were there to keep the next whim of the Supreme Court from voiding countless legally valid, morally sound American marriages. But when you can’t defend your actions, point to the squirrel.
Since the news can be such a whirl, it helps to step back and understand what is going on in America, big picture: A religious minority is trying to impose their hidebound moral notions on the unwilling majority, and since they’d lose at the ballot box, they’re corrupting and abandoning the American democratic system to do it. Achieving one goal — scrapping reproductive freedom — only leads them hurrying to the next. That’s the thing with religious totalitarianism. It can’t be reasoned with. Persuasion won’t work. It can only be defeated.