Years from now, Americans will look at the Supreme Court’s recent decision to repeal Texas’ sodomy law as a stepping stone for greater freedom for gays – the gay community’s Brown v. the Board of Education.
The law, a draconian measure driven by ideology and religion rather than by any sense of equality, prohibited anal and oral sex among homosexual couples; but, in a blatant act of targeted discrimination, it permitted heterosexual couples to practice the same type of behavior. Instead of just striking down the Texas law, the court went further, declaring all homosexual sodomy laws -which are on the books in three other states – unconstitutional. The court also banned sodomy laws in eight other states, which outlawed sodomy among both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
“(Gays are) entitled to respect for their private lives,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-4 decision. “The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”
Conservative ideologues have lined up one after the other, usually on some unintelligible Fox News show, to denounce the decision. They worry that the ruling gives tacit consent to gay marriage, which will undermine American society and open up the floodgates to bestiality, communism and just about every evil under the sun. But conservatives’ fear may come true – gay marriage, while not yet a reality in this country, is inevitable, and all the stump speeches and money in the world can’t stop the momentum of social progress.
Americans don’t have to look far to see where all of this is going. In Canada (or America Jr., as Homer Simpson blithely refers to it), a court in Ontario, drawing on the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has ruled that gay couples can marry. The ruling Liberal Party, not anxious to draw the ire of the politically powerful gay community, has declined to appeal the ruling, paving the way for gay marriages to go forward in Ontario. In the next few months, legislators are expected to pass a bill that would legalize gay marriages nationwide. Canada would then join Belgium and the Netherlands as the only countries to allow gay marriages.
The recent developments in Canada present American politicians with a logistical dilemma as well as a moral one. Now that Ontario – which has no residency requirement for those wishing to marry – has legalized gay marriage, hundreds of American gay couples will cross the border to get married. Newly married gay couples will expect the same rights heterosexual couples enjoy – for instance, joint health coverage. Does Canada’s legalization of gay marriage mean it’s de facto legalization in America? Politicians on both sides of the aisle, wary of even broaching the issue, have been evasive and equivocal, and still classify marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
But their failure to recognize gay couples’ right to marry raises doubts about the U.S. being the world’s standard-bearer of morality. Can the most democratic country afford to treat some of its citizens undemocratically?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes, because politicians have made gay rights into a partisan issue, instead of an issue of inequality. Republicans, driven by neo-conservatives and the religious right, have openly spurned gays. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), in what are now infamous remarks, equated homosexuality with polygamy and incest. The White House, quick to quell any in-party fighting, didn’t even admonish Santorum for his remarks – a sharp indication of the president’s complacency about his colleague’s views on homosexuality (and perhaps an indication of his own views). And Republicans have gone farther than words, nominating people with abominable track records on gay rights to the federal bench.
Democrats, who are usually equated with social progress, haven’t done much better. In fact, since Democrats have shrugged off clamors for gay rights, their conduct can be deemed even worse than Republicans’ avowed contempt for gays. Former Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean has been hailed as a gay rights activist for his endorsement of a same-sex civil union law in Vermont. But Dean’s much-touted success belies the political realities that forced him to sign the law. Dean, whose eye has always been on the White House, could not have been seen as an impediment to gay rights. This goes for most Democrats, who have only advocated gay rights when it was politically expedient.
One might ask if the two major political parties have abandoned gays, then why the optimism? While equality for gays is still elusive, it is inevitable. Eventually, both parties, save the right-wing fanatics, will come around on the issue, just like they did on civil rights. Remember, a period of ten years passed between the Brown ruling and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is Hatchet metro editor.