Thursday, May 10, 2012

What Do Southern Stereotypes Have to Do with Gay Marriage in North Carolina?

Yesterday, a bad joke was circulating on the Internet. The hearts of everyone sharing it on Facebook and Twitter, and those laughing with them, were in the right place, but I'm not so sure about their minds.

Like so many others who are in support of gay rights (which, regardless of what misguided homophobes and holy rollers tell you, are inextricably linked to human rights), I was appalled at yesterday's developments in North Carolina, which became the 30th U.S. state to ban gay marriage. It's the widely held antiquated point of view regarding gay marriage that so many of my fellow Americans insist on hanging on to (it's a sin because, well, the bible says so!), and those ridiculous shouts of majority rule (as if the majority should have any right to control people's private decisions), that make me glad to be living elsewhere.

I'm hard on Argentina for a lot of things and rightfully so, but my former home, a bastion of Catholicism that one might expect to be one of the final resting places for outdated ideals, arrived at a collective state of enlightenment far more quickly and decisively than the U.S., legalizing gay marriage in 2010.

Over in the U.S., they've been hiding behind the bible and the argument over states rights vs. human rights for years. The latter didn't hold up during the Civil War, and it still doesn't hold up. Some might carp at my comparing slavery to gay rights, and they'd be missing my point. I don't think it's necessary to assign degrees of horrific to historical injustices, though anyone who's been the victim of a hate crime for being gay would no doubt put the homophobia harbored by those in favor of a gay-marriage ban right up there with racism.

Slavery is perhaps the greatest stain on U.S. history, and to apply it to contemporary events is not to diminish it. Remember George Santayana's famous quote: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Still wondering what racism has got to do with it? Click here. It's a far more compelling argument against the stupidity in North Carolina than any joke I've read in the last 24 hours.

Majority rule (which, contrary to popular belief, is not the meaning of democracy) and states rights should be no more applicable in this matter than they were in December of 1865, when the 13th Constitutional Amendment banned slavery everywhere in the U.S., or in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the 10 revolting Confederate states. Today, we need a similar executive order. Are you listening, President Barack Obama?

"Now is not the time for sloganeering." Among all of the "give peace a chance" rhetoric during the first Gulf War, it was Sting's reaction to it that moved me most. I wonder if he's heard the one about hitching cousins in North Carolina. What would he think?

I, for one, don't think it's funny. As someone who has suffered because of stereotypes my entire life -- being black, being gay, and now, being American -- I can't get behind the idea of using another one to win this particular cause. My feelings have nothing to do with whether stereotypes are based on truth -- some of them are, though having lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, for three months after college while interning for the Charlotte Observer, I can say that I saw no evidence of incestuous marital behavior. It's just that I'd rather use solid, convincing arguments to win this particular case. (Oh, and by the way, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of the greatest U.S. Presidents and a New Yorker, was married to his cousin, albeit a distant one.)

To those who say "lighten up," as I was told after I responded negatively to the above joke being forwarded to me, I say watch, listen and learn. For many people, including the protagonist of the video below, who lost his lover on, of all days, my birthday last year, this is no joking matter.

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