Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gay Marriage Setback In Maine Won't Stop Liberation


MAINE VOTED IN A REFERENDUM YESTERDAY to strike down a recently passed law recognizing gay marriages. The unofficial tally gave the bigots - and let's not pretend that opposing gay marriage is anything other than bigotry - 53 percent, while those supporting the law received 47 percent.
Now, I know nothing about how the campaign was run, other than that there was a lot of money behind both sides. I hope to find out more in the coming days. But as people no doubt mourn the loss I want to be one of those annoying cup-half-full people.
It was just over forty years ago that gay relationships were removed from the criminal statutes in Canada, when Pierre Trudeau famously declared that "there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." And it was forty years ago this past June when a typical cop raid on a gay bar - the Stonewall Inn - turned into three nights of rioting that kicked off the Gay Liberation movement in the US.
It hasn't been an easy struggle for gays and lesbians over the past generation and a half but there has been important and steady progress. Each step forward has been punctuated by bursts of activism that pushed gay rights into the spotlight, into the cultural mainstream and ultimately into legislation. In the 1980s there was ACT UP! and Queer Nation. In the 1990s, in Canada, there was the Campaign For Equal Families - briefly forced to mobilize angry gays and lesbians against the Ontario NDPs sell-out on same sex spousal benefits, before returning to safe, quiet lobbying and legal strategies. And, in October, we saw the very public rebirth of the gay liberation movement in DC, when 250,000 marched for gay rights.
In culture we've gone from the homicidal gays of Cruising with Al Pacino and Sharon Stone's sociopathic bi-sexual in Basic Instinct to the Oscar-winning blockbuster about star-crossed gay lovers, Brokeback Mountain. I can even remember the mid-80s show called Brothers that was refused by the networks because one of the brothers was gay and portrayed positively. It ended up on the cable network Showtime. Less than ten years after Brothers ended, there was Will and Grace with an openly gay man as the principal character on a network broadcaster. The NBC series lasted a full eight years, until 2006. Popular culture has come a long way and that's a reflection of the gains that have been won.
The idea of having a close vote on support for gay and lesbian marriage even ten years ago would have been anathema. Never mind that a vote in favour of "civil unions" - a halfway measure to be sure - would actually win in a US state, even liberal Washington state as happened last night. That these votes took place - and that a vote to include discrimination against gays and lesbians in the Kalamazoo anti-discrimination law - is a real testament to the struggles and perseverance of gays, lesbians and their supporters across North America. With same sex marriage now deeply entrenched in Canada and the momentum of a large and growing movement across the US, the defeat in Maine must be seen as a small setback on a generally forward march. Hopefully the movement in the US will use the anger generated by this defeat to broaden, deepen and extend the movement, to make it more militant and intransigent, to make it more unwilling to compromise with sell-out Democrats, to mobilize without fail until gays and lesbians win what is their birthright - total, unequivocal, equality in every sphere of life. In other words, until liberation.
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