It seems that the polls reflecting Democratic candidate John Kerry’s rise in popularity struck a nerve with some conservatives, and before you can say ”wag the dog,” we have a new orange level crisis here at home. Thank goodness for the Bush administration and conservative activists shaking their fists in the air to make us feel safe once again.
This time, it’s not the threat of terrorist bombings at home or far away dictators who may or may not possess weapons of mass destruction.
No, this time the greatest threat facing us seems to be gay couples who want to legitimize and legalize their loving commitments to one another. It is so much of a threat to the institution of marriage that numerous urgent issues requiring the attention of our lawmakers last week were brushed aside to address a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Fortunately for those who are concerned about bigotry being written into the constitution, the amendment banning gay marriage will not be voted on – at least not this year. The primarily Republican backed siege on the rights of gays won less than half the Senate. Six Republicans voted with Democrats, defeating the effort 50-48. Even Republican Sen. John McCain stated that ”this amendment will never be adopted until more Americans feel as strongly as they do,” ”they” being the operative word.
John McCain is right. Current polls indicate that Americans are actually less homophobic than conservatives were counting on and more concerned about bringing home troops from a war that is unnecessary and unjust. For most people, a flailing economy and rising unemployment seem to take precedence over the war on homosexuals.
What I find interesting about the rhetoric being spewed forth by politicians and conservative activists – not to mention local columnists – is the vehemence of it. The intense fear and boiling blood that arises at the notion of same sex-couples legitimizing their commitment before the state is palpable.
Why so impassioned? Are these same people really convinced that same-sex marriages are more threatening to American family values than body bags being shipped from Iraq?
What about the suffering by men and women in the military returning with amputated limbs and the emotional scars of violence and war? Aren’t their wounds far more threatening to ”American family values” than a same-sex couple who swears to love, honor and obey?
In trying to understand the orange homophobic alert, I spoke with a professor of psychology at TSU, Jill Hill, about how and why people feel intensely angry and threatened by a particular behavior or lifestyle – even if it ultimately doesn’t affect them. She explained that when people are threatened or insecure, there are several classic Freudian defense mechanisms such as projection, repression and overreaction used to deflect attention away from the real issues troubling them.
Is there a correlation between the level of terror and indignation these men – and the voices we hear are mostly men – express about gay marriages and their own repressed desires? Are all of these frightened heterosexuals afraid of being converted or leaving their marriages?
I know gay and lesbian religious leaders, bankers, lawyers, actors, artists and football players and never felt my heterosexual lifestyle was threatened by their love of a person of the same sex. Admittedly, I was disappointed once when a man I found attractive fancied my date – but it never made me angry enough to legislate against his right to choose men over me.
For those who don’t remember Wag the Dog, it is a film starring Dustin Hoffman about a president who actually stages a war half-way across the world to divert attention away from some personal indiscretions that are threatening his popularity during an election year.
If there were a Wag the Dog II, it would be a slight variation on the theme. It might involve a president who defied world opinion and declared war under false pretenses and got caught – but not until thousands of innocent people were killed and a country devastated. After the war debacle is exposed and his popularity drops in the polls, the president desperately attempts to ignite another war at home – this time pitting arch-conservatives against well, everybody else.
Like Wag the Dog, the war on homosexuals is a smoke-screen to convince Americans that ”American family values” are at stake – whatever those are. Since the media cooperated so nicely with selling the Iraqi war, the Bush team expects that any fear product they are selling will be consumed without question. And this time, they are wrong. The Senate didn’t buy it nor have the American public.
By convincing Americans that gay marriages pose an imminent threat to a sacred institution (marriages of mass destruction?), President Bush must think he can force his formidable opponent, John Kerry, to take a stand in favor of gay marriage – and thereby lose votes. The challenge for Bush would be to convince voters of the marriage threat and thus divert attention away from the war in Iraq.
Before we buy into the argument, it is important to look beneath the anger and fear that causes us to rally around inhibiting the rights of fellow humans. What are we really afraid of? And what causes us to feel so insecure within ourselves that we deprive someone else of their rights?
It was not so long ago that blacks were deemed three-fifths human, women and blacks couldn’t vote and interracial marriages were illegal. Men of privilege and power have a history of enacting laws that restricted the actions of others. Many of them see it as their divine right and often they hide behind the rationalization that ”God said so.”
It makes perfect sense that conservatives who blindly support the president are eager to divert American attention from the war in Iraq – where most Americans are focused. As far as cultivating fear and terror around gay marriages, Freud might have a field day with that one.
Me thinks they do protest too much!
Molly Secours is a writer, filmmaker and speaker in Nashville TN. She can be reached at: [email protected].