Wednesday, November 01, 2006


There has recently been some upheaval in the "gay community" over the decision by the LA Gay and Lesbian Center to run ads and put up billboards that state flat out that AIDS is a gay disease. "HIV is a gay disease. Own it. End it." Talk about truth no one wants to acknowledge. But some of the loudest complaints came from those working against AIDS in the "Afro-American community," and understandably so. They are both right.

The LAGLC has the CDC statistics on its side. Of 666,000 cumulative reported cases of AIDS in men, men who have sex with men, tactfully abbreviated "MSM" [that's us we're talking about here], account for about 369,000 cases. That's approximately 56% of all male AIDS cases in the US to date. Now, even taking the Kinsey figure of 10%, that means that the group have an incidence of AIDS 5 to 6 times higher than non-MSM guys; at a more realistic 3%, we are talking about an incidence 18 times higher, and even compromising at 5% yields the ugly figure of 11 times higher. In LA, according to the LAGLC, 75% of those living with AIDS are gay or bi men. That is a disproportion of 8, 15, 25 times our population figures. We do have to own it if we want to end it.

There is apparently a second campaign being planned: "HIV is a Black disease. Own it. End it." And the activists in the "Afro-American community" [has anyone ever visited or joined any of these so-called "communities"?] are also right. Because after the MSM team, who definitely take the gold, African-Americans take the silver at 313,000 cases, or about 42% of the total of 816,000, with a population that accounts for 12-13% of the general population. But that is at most a disproportion of over three times their share of the population. Bad enough, perhaps. We can claim a disproportion three to four times as high at least. The people who need to step up to the plate and take this on as their own are... us.

I am now in occasional social contact with gay marriage activists here in the Bay State. They are idealistic, well-intentioned people, and I respect both them and their dedication. They are of course tremendously proud of the action of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. But I think they are sitting on a time bomb, and I think they know it, or they would not be so busy tracking and bolstering support for the cause in the Massachusetts legislature. They suspect that sooner or later the issue is going to land there, and I think that when it does, they are in for a rude awakening, for all their activity and vote counting.

I could be dead wrong. But the recent New Jersey decision, though hailed as a victory by both sides, echoes the original Vermont Supreme Court decision and puts the solution to the problem squarely in the unwilling hands of the legislature, though New Jersey wisely gives them only six months to come up with one. That is right, but it is terribly difficult to do well. Vermont is a tiny state and was able to keep the outside agitation to an absolute minimum; as it was, the creation of civil unions cost many members of the legislature their seats, nearly tossed Howard Dean's reelection into a hostile legislature, and left a residue of resentment in the general population. [Of course, the underlying issue is the take-over of Vermont by Flatlander transplants like my family, but never mind...]

New Jersey is not a small, small-town state, and things could get
really ugly. Massachusetts, where there is the possibility of actually reversing several years of legal marriage, could make New Jersey look like a picnic. But perhaps Massachusetts will be content to be a little piece of Canada in the US, as Canada is content to be the little piece of Europe in North America.

I apologize to any visitors to this little amphibian corner of the web who feel I am stepping on their toes, but it seems to me that "we" have already forgotten how we appealed to a sense of justice and asked the wider society for a compromise that gave basic human rights to a minority in a way that the majority could live with. Activists who insist on the "M" word, from Andrew Sullivan on down, seem to forget that they are asking for the sun and the stars when what really matters is closer at hand: let's call it the moon. Do we really want to achieve the rights of married couples under law, with all the benefits thereto attached, and have that recognized by the federal government and all the other states? Because that means accepting compromise with people who, much as we may demonize them, are in fact our neighbors and fellow citizens. Or do we insist on getting everything we want, when we want it, and devil take the rest of us?

After the bloodbath of the following election, civil unions in Vermont are now regarded as history, a done deal. And no one but the extreme lunatic fringe thinks otherwise. Recently, however, I have heard VT activists say that in retrospect civil unions were the worst thing that ever happened to the gay community in the state, a statement that quite simply takes my breath away. I think they have lost touch with reality, or simply forgotten what it took to get to where they are. Success has gone to their heads. Those in Vermont who moved heaven and earth to get the moon now declare that what they bought with the courageous collaboration of the state's conscience is not good enough. No one seems to be thinking what it sounds like when you are given the moon and start insisting on getting the sun and stars as well.

I guess my problem boils down to the simple fact that I know many people who are swayed by the argument for simple human rights, but who balk at spreading the mantle of "marriage" over same-sex unions. And they are not bigots. But I fear that if we grow insistent enough, and deaf enough to their concerns, they may become bigots. I watched this happen to friends who competed for government contracts with minority-owned firms that could count on a protected share of any bid. It didn't take long.

And I am, as in so many things, on the fence here. I take solace from the fact that other gay Christians feel similarly, but I do also recognize that my own story leaves me neither fish nor fowl, and, frankly, suspect on both sides of the street now. I have left a marriage for whatever God will grant me in the years I have remaining, but you don't have to be an idiot or a bigot to see that whatever kind of relationship I do find is not going to be the same as my marriage. At least, I do not think that in recognizing the difference, I am descending to either idiocy or bigotry. I am divided against myself enough as it is. If I had to start picketing my own church services I might go mad...

In fact, in an odd and unpleasant way, it is Margaret Sanger who is the patron saint of the gay marriage movement. From the dawn of time until her day, almost every marriage bore fruit in the creation of children. There are now many ways to imitate such a marriage, and more ways to avoid its reality, but the simple fact is that until sterility in marriage became a positive good to society at large, the issue of gay marriage was a complete and obvious oxymoron.

It's true that "civil union" has an anti-septic ring, and that there is no easy verb for it. But let's not set out ourselves up for trench warfare. Let's look to achieve what are rights because they are human rights, and work to find common ground with our fellow citizens in order to achieve it. We all have to live together in the long run.

BEHOLD, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.
That will be the day the lion lies down with the lamb, I fear.
Hang in there.

No comments:

Post a Comment