Leaders of the gay rights movement are embroiled in a bitter and increasingly public debate over whether they should moderate their goals in the wake of bruising losses in November when 11 states approved constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriages. In the past week alone, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, has accepted the resignation of its executive director, appointed its first non-gay board co-chairman and adopted a new, more moderate strategy, with less emphasis on legalizing same-sex marriages and more on strengthening personal relationships.
The leadership of the Human Rights Campaign, at a meeting last weekend in Las Vegas, concluded that the group must bow to political reality and moderate its message and its goals. One official said the group would consider supporting President Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program. "The feeling this weekend in Las Vegas was that we had to get beyond the political and return to the personal," said Michael Berman, a Democratic lobbyist and consultant who was elected the first non-gay co-chairman of the Human Rights Campaign's board last week. "We need to reintroduce ourselves to America with the stories of our lives."
But others involved in the drive for gay and lesbian equality say the Human Rights Campaign's approach smacks of pre-emptive surrender and wrong-headed political calculation. "For a certain segment of the movement, for which I would certainly elect the H.R.C. as poster child, it means that the error was that we were wanting too much too fast," said Jonathan D. Katz, executive coordinator of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale. "It is entirely characteristic for them to believe that what is required is a sort of retrenchment and a return to a more moderate message. They are, of course, completely wrong."
Mr. Katz and other aggressive advocates of gay rights said they believed that marriage rights were the key to winning fundamental equality for gay men and lesbians and that retreat from that struggle was self-defeating.
Well ... here's the thing.
I never had so much of a quarrel with the content of the gay marriage battle as the previous timing. It was clear that we were going to be used as the whipping boys for the right wing to stir up the faithful to get them to vote, and really, the election was going to be close enough without that.
Looked at fairly, that particular issue would never have had an easy time, no matter when in the election cycle it occurred. The right wing would always be able to use it as it was used, and having it pop up earlier or later within a four-year period really wouldn't have mattered that much to the results. The very concept of some sort of legal parity would always have terrified and revolted the same group of people who were terrified and revolted by it this time through.
That said ... if HRC is seriously considering supporting privatizing Social Security in exchange for the rights of gay partners to receive benefits, then that is a spectacularly wrong-headed strategy. They would be willing to sacrifice the interests of all of the elderly poor and many widows/widowers of this country -- all of those people, mind -- to gain access to those benefits. More importantly, they would be portrayed as doing such, which would alienate a great many moderate people (and not a few gays and lesbians of all political stripes) who might otherwise be willing to support what they thought of as a reasonable request for equality.
Yes, I do understand that the idea is that it would be a sort of political tradeoff -- although, if HRC truly thinks that Bush wouldn't eagerly accept their support with one hand while selling them out with great enthusiasm with the other, then, again, they are absolute and utter fools. (Just ask the Log Cabin Republicans.) That isn't the sort of deal this president could ever honor, given his power base. It's not the sort of deal he would have the least interest in honoring.
The idea behind Social Security is that it's meant to provide a sort of minimum level secure income. While stock investments can produce quite high payoffs, they can also produce some spectacular busts. The one thing the stock market is not is secure. It is only simple justice that the widows and widowers of gay people should be allowed access to those same benefits. But it is not just or fair to sacrifice the interests of the program as a whole to gain those benefits.
(Something of a side note: only legal spouses and children are allowed access to social security dependent benefits. For example, I'm pretty sure that longterm live-in heterosexual partners can't designate their surviving partner to receive social security benefits. Allowing gay widows and widowers access to survivor benefits is, frankly, something Bush could not do, absent getting Congress to repeal the federal DOMA. And that, they simply will not do any time in the near future.)
It is interesting to note that the people pushing the privatization of Social Security are, for the most part, only those who will never need the program. The stock market is itching to get its hands on trillions of dollars of funds. The people actually directly affected by this, however, for the most part seem to be saying, "Um ... no. No, we just don't think so. Please stop."
Not that anybody's listening, of course.Posted by iain at December 09, 2004 12:11 PM