January 12, 2009
Can you spot the real activists?
Posted by: Chris
Across the country just this weekend, tens of thousands of lesbians and gay men rallied in dozens of cities to call on President-elect Obama fulfill his campaign promise to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, that notorious statute passed back in 1996 by a Republican Congress and signed by Bill Clinton that robs gay married couples from any recognition of their relationship by the federal government.
DOMA also purports to allow each state to decide for itself whether to refuse recognition of marriage licenses issued by other states or foreign governments. Politicians like Hillary Clinton who insist they have our best interests at heart have warned against touching DOMA for fear of inciting a new movement for a federal marriage amendment. Yet these tens of thousands of lesbians and gay men understand that politicians and their activist-apologists will always tell us that our calls for equality are poorly timed for one reason or another. They also understand that fighting for our basic civil rights will always carry some risk.
That basic activist nerve unfortunately gets dulled by the risk-averse Beltway doubletalk that has long handicapped our movement. I've already noted any number of times the disconnect between these grassroots activists pushing for relationship recognition and the D.C.-based LGBT rights groups, which are cutting deals for lower-hanging fruit -- like workplace rights and hate crime laws.
But the difference isn't just between local activists across the U.S. and the national activists lobbying the federal government. Even the local activists in Washington, D.C., lack the basic nerve to act and are woefully out of touch from even the local D.C. community they claim to represent.
Just last week, these "activists" declared victory when gay D.C. Council member David Catania decided not to introduce a marriage equality bill that had the support of the mayor and would have passed the Council by a lopsided vote of 12-1 or 11-2. Lou Chibbaro of the Washington Blade reported:
His decision followed what appeared on the surface to be an ironic development: A number of prominent gay rights advocates lobbied Catania and other Council members not to take up a gay marriage bill so soon in the legislative year.
That's what "activism" looks like in our nation's capital -- convincing politicians not to act. Why? The excuses are old and tired and make even less sense today than they have for the last decade that we've heard them from the same small cadre of mostly elderly folks, who are sadly blinded by their own partisanship and arrogance or who value their own influence over the process than they do the constituents they claim to represent. They fail to realize, of course, that their power is wholly illusory, since politicians -- Catania excepted -- are only to eager not to act when given an excuse not to.
When I first moved back to Washington in 2001, this same group -- personified by Rick Rosendall (pictured) of the ironically named Gay & Lesbian Activist Alliance -- urged caution because President Bush had proposed a federal constitutional amendment and Congress, which has veto power over D.C. laws, was under the control of anti-gay Republicans.
Never mind that these same Republicans had portrayed the marriage movement as one in which judges impt puttiose their will on "the people." The GL"A"A cautioned against putting the lie to that argument by forcing these same Republicans to veto or not the democratically-elected legislature and executive in Washington.
Years later, the threat of a federal amendment subsided almost entirely after it failed miserably in votes in 2004 and 2006. What's more, Democrats retook control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections. Robbed of those excuses, these "activists" still refused to budge from the game plan they adopted sometime in the last millennium, claiming the Democrats hadn't wrested sufficient control of Congress so our equality was still too risky.
The election of 2008 put the final nail in that particular coffin, as Democrats won very comfortable majorities in both the House and the Senate. It's beside the point whether majorities in both houses of Congress favor gay marriage itself. Like the new president, clear majorities in the House and the Senate favor leaving D.C. alone to self-govern, especially on areas of social policy like this one.
Now these "activists" are offering up Proposition 8 as their latest excuse against action, since Washington, D.C., is majority African American, and black Californians voted in favor of the gay marriage ban. We are, of course, months and months away from a Prop 8-style referendum in D.C., assuming its backers could successfully navigate the District's complex referendum process to even get it on the ballot. Should they succeed, we have already learned much from the Prop 8 battle, and a campaign across a heavily Democratic city of 600,000 is far more manageable than it was in a geographically sprawling state of more than 36,000,000.
If these "activists" aim to prove that if we wait long enough, gay marriage won't be very controversial in Washington, D.C., then of course they are right. But since when is that the point of a civil rights movement? The prize is our equality, and the point of the movement is to make that day happen sooner rather than later. And yet still they counsel keeping our gunpowder perpetually dry for fear that success will illustrate the timidity of their long-time strategery.
If Rosendall, Rosenstein and other self-proclaimed "activists" in D.C. don't get that, then it is long, long, long past time that they just get out of the way and let others fight where they are unwilling or unable.
(Photo of DOMA protest in San Diego via Rex Wockner)
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