America is rupturing
One issue is bisecting the most powerful nation down an ever-widening fault line: homosexuality.
The last few months has seen such wildly opposing strides toward and away from gay equality as to dwarf even the gay-bishops chasm in the Anglican church.
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Such opposing moves are ripping the country asunder, on state lines. They are rendering life for gay Americans a zip code lottery.
East and west coasts have always been the bastions of liberalism and progression. But as this trend canters forth, southern states are tobogganing back to the kind of pernicious conservatism not seen since the 1950s. But with one crucial difference: then homosexuality wasn’t discussed; now it is deliberately suppressed.
The most astonishing jump forward has been the recent FAIR Education Act. It stands for Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful and was signed into Californian law in July. The bill states that all schools must teach their students about the contribution LGBT people have made throughout history. This is in line with existing laws that require teachers to include women of historical importance - and those from ethnic minorities - in their lessons.
But this act isn’t simply symbolically potent. It will shape the attitudes of the state’s inhabitants for generations. Thus, once Proposition 8 is repealed, it will have little chance of re-emerging.
But as kids in California imbibe state-sponsored tolerance, young people in the Deep South face abandonment by gagged teachers. Tennessee, now the US’s most fetid swamp of sanctioned homophobia, has just passed a law banning even the mention of homosexuality in schools. It is America’s more extreme answer to Section 28, which even in 1980s Britain was considered dangerous.
Stacey Campfield, the senator who introduced the bill, said homosexuality is a “learned behaviour”. Two years ago he told the radio station Sirius XM, “If I want to talk about the bestiality movement do you think we should be teaching that?”
Sadly, it’s not just youngsters in Tennessee whose chances of living in a tolerant state are diminishing. Its governor, Bill Haslam, has recently signed a bill that flattens any local attempts to offer protection to gay Tennesseans. Currently, for example, the city of Nashville has in place a law banning discrimination against gay people. But the bill renders it obsolete.
Meanwhile, key east coast states – New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey – are introducing gay marriage. But rather than taking a public opinion hint from this, or the recent Gallup poll showing that 53 percent of Americans support gay marriage, Michele Bachmann, the Republican Party’s possible candidate for the 2012 presidential election, is unleashing anti-gay venom with such indiscriminate fervour as to call to mind a man-handled scorpion.
She describes the discussion of homosexuality in schools as “child abuse”. She accuses the gay community of “specifically targeting our children”. She believes homosexuality is a “sexual dysfunction”. And recently, her husband Marcus, a therapist who calls gays “barbarians”, was exposed for a running a practice that tries to “cure” gay clients, to make them straight. She could be the next president.
But it is the current one who niftily personifies America’s bipolar disorder on gay rights. Obama’s conflicted behaviour and rhetoric here doesn’t just denote a man trying to have his cake and eat it; it denotes someone trying to eat it, pretend that he hasn’t and avoid the calorie intake. Thus, he publicly supports gay civil unions, refuses to back gay marriage, but when New York voted for full marriage rights, he feebly almost implied his approval by opining that the senate’s debate was “exactly how things should work”. What?
The mixed messages are, however, transparent. Through them one beholds a man wanting to appease liberals and conservatives - but doing neither. How, then, would he feel about fence-sitting over civil rights? Or someone stalling - as he is with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell - over legal protection for ethnic minorities?
He has courageously risked a great deal by pushing for healthcare reform, so why not do so with gay legal reform? It seems he’d rather jeopardize the welfare of a minority than risk worsening approval ratings. He is vertiginous. He can see the ravine from the faultline; he can see his country dividing into mutually repellent continents. But with one foot in each, the further they drift the sooner he’ll topple.
There is much at stake for gay people - not just in America, but due to its influence, all over the world. There is much at stake too for the political and religious leaders of the country.
It is scant surprise then that faith groups and big businesses are pumping money into either pro- or anti-gay causes. Politicians meanwhile are firing rhetorical missiles at each other. Rallies are uniting armies on either side. Activists are galvanised. A new civil rights war is raging. Why? Why, let us remind ourselves, is this happening? Because of who loves whom. That’s it. It’s the biggest, sickest joke of the modern age.