The controversy stirred up by Lawrence v. Texas, the Texas anti-gay sodomy law now pending before the Supreme Court, is once again putting a spotlight on the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality.
Senator Rick Santorum, who ranks third in the GOP congressional hierarchy as chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, had some choice words to say concerning the looming Supreme Court case. In an interview with the Associated Press on April 22, after explaining his support for the Texas law that criminalizes gay sodomy, the Pennsylvania Republican added: “That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.”
In reply the stunned reporter interviewing Santorum said such comments were “freaking me out.” So Santorum tried to clarify: “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.”
Such bizarre and hateful comments are still part of the legitimate public dialogue in Washington. The Bush Administration’s spokesperson Ari Fleischer defended Santorum as “an inclusive man.” Senate majority leader Bill Frist described Santorum as a “voice for inclusion and compassion.”
After months of hearing Republican leaders sing hosannas to “American Freedom,” hypocrisy has been taken to new heights as these same politicians position themselves as America’s new morality police. These Republicans’ ideas on homosexuality have more in common with the Taliban and Osamma bin Laden than the views of most Americans.
74% of Americans support overturning anti-sodomy laws, according to a Harris Interactive/Witeck-Combs Communications poll in April. Yet four states still outlaw gay sodomy, and 9 more ban sodomy between anyone.
These laws are rarely enforced by bedroom police. But they exist to justify and legitimize discrimination against LGBT people. They also legitimize the idea that government bureaucrats have a right to tell someone which kinds of sex are, and are not, acceptable in their private lives. All people should have the right to engage in any form of consensual sex they choose without government regulations.
Santorum and other right-wing bigots in Washington, not only want to criminalize sodomy, but all sex outside of heterosexual marriage illegal, which Americans would never accept. Their anti-LGBT agenda is linked to their attacks on abortion rights, birth control, sex education, sexual freedom, women’s rights, young people’s rights, and democratic rights in general.
They want to turn back the clock by strengthening sexism and the institution of the traditional nuclear family as part of their long-term agenda of undermining the confidence and social gains of the civil rights, labor, women’s, and LGBT movements of the ’60s and ’70s.
Lobbying for Crumbs
Many in the LGBT community and beyond hoped Santorum would go the way of Trent Lott. After provoking a national uproar last winter by implying support for racial segregation, Lott was hastily forced by the Bush administration to resign from his position as Senate Republican leader.
But in Santorum’s case, even most Democrats kept quiet. Aside from a few rhetorical flare-ups by some in the liberal wing, calling for Santorum to be pushed down the GOP hierarchy, the Democratic Party refused again to mobilize the outrage in the LGBT community into an aggressive campaign.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country’s most prominent LGBT-rights group, made a priority out of courting Republican moderates since the 2002 GOP election victories. This lobbying strategy, which has come to dominate the LGBT movement in the 1980’s and ’90s, has taken the movement off the streets and into the offices of corporate sponsored politicians within the Democratic, and now Republican, parties.
HRC spokesman David Smith “insists the GOP is tending toward the support of LGBT rights,” according to The Advocate (6/10/03). Discussing the response by Senate Republican moderates to Santorum’s comments, Smith said “we were pleased with what they had to say” and that “privately the White House was very unhappy with Santorum.”
The logic of the HRC’s lobbying efforts is to offer support to politicians in both major parties, who are more than ready to betray LGBT rights when it is politically expedient. Such methods only undermine building a loud and proud movement, as HRC figures like Smith are left pathetically apologizing for alleged “allies” in the White House and Congress.
This strategy reflects the influence of the new LGBT entrepreneurial class who have profited off the exploding “LGBT niche market” in recent years. It also reflects Democratic Party efforts to cultivate a “tame” LGBT leadership that will hand the party millions of votes and dollars while demanding very little in return.
Contrast the HRC strategy with the methods of struggle that brought about the dramatic achievements of the LGBT movement so far. In many urban centers today, LGBT people face less harassment or violence than in the past, gays and lesbians have a growing presence in the media, and some employers are beginning to provide benefits to employees’ same-sex partners.
These important strides forward (although there is still very far to go) were achieved by the mass struggles of the ’60s and ’70s by the LGBT movement, along with the snowball effects of the women’s, civil rights, and anti-Vietnam war movements. The 1969 Stonewall uprising, when hundreds of gays and lesbians battled repressive New York police gave birth to a new audacious consciousness of “gay pride” and “coming out.” LGBT people have increasingly refused to go back to the days of silently endured oppression ever since.
Stonewall also gave birth to the Gay Liberation Front, a radical organization which linked their movement with the common struggle of all oppressed people, to achieve liberation through the struggle for a socialist society.
“Family Values” – A Cornerstone of Capitalism
The conservative “family values” agenda – the idea of a family, led by a bread-winning man with a dependent wife and dependent children, as the bedrock of social stability and moral civilization – is not just an attack on LGBT people but also women, young people, and all working people. Since the LGBT community only makes up an estimated 10% of the population, the LGBT movement needs to form links with these other oppressed groups who are under similar attacks from the ruling class, like the Gay Liberation Front did in the past.
The ruling class uses discrimination and prejudice against LGBT people, women, and people of color to divide the working class and divert workers’ anger away from their exploitation by corporations and the government. By arguing that a lack of family values is undermining the social fabric of America, the ruling class tries to put the blame for society’s problems on scapegoats such as “feminazis,” gays, and welfare recipients. Meanwhile, corporate executives like those at Enron enrich themselves by denying workers their pensions, while politicians slash social services.
The ruling class also promotes “family values” to put the responsibility for all of society’s problems on individual working class families. This conveniently breaks down cooperation within working class communities and allows the domestic labor of raising the next generation of workers to be done privately, mostly by women, without cutting into the profits of business.
Demands for publicly-funded childcare, nursing homes, maternity leave, equal pay for women, or benefits for single parents, only came into existence as women entered the workforce in large numbers, and the traditional family model began to break down. Such demands, whether provided as government services or employer benefits, are enormously costly and could only be paid for out of corporations’ massive profits. In other words, an enormous transfer of wealth from the rich to the working class would be necessary.
Maintaining the traditional family model is therefore critical for big business in order to ward off movements demanding social spending to relieve social problems and to divert the working class’s anger towards vulnerable scapegoats.
We need to confront discriminatory laws and the right wing’s attacks on LGBT people by organizing a powerful, uncompromising movement for LGBT rights. At the same time, we need to aim to unite all workers – straight and queer, women and men, black, brown, and white – to overcome the corporations’ divide and rule tactics. This will inevitably entail building a movement in the streets against capitalism and the two parties of big business – the Democrats and Republicans.