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America: Come out of the closet

Peter Quaranto | Wednesday, November 17, 2004

In the wake of Election 2004, I have witnessed two reactions among campus politicos: Monday-morning quarterbacking or total rejection of all things political. Among those of us young, rising George Stephanopoulos-wannabes that lean towards the former, there has been a rising wave of thought placing abortion as the pinnacle “moral values” issue to understand President George W. Bush’s re-election. While abortion certainly was a mobilizing factor, I tend to side with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Perkins said, “Same-sex marriage was the hood ornament of the family values wagon that carried the president to a second term.” Call it a “hood ornament”, call it pandering to Americans’ worst prejudices, same-sex marriage played a decisive role on Nov. 2 and will continue to play a critical role in the state of our nation in the years ahead.

The “moral values” surprise of the exit polls has left analysts wrestling with a new American political phenomenon: the rise of the evangelical. According to many sources, Karl Rove declared that Bush had to get 4 million more evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics to the polls in order to win. And this Rove and his armies of Christian crusaders achieved, especially in states, like Ohio and Arkansas, where voters were also faced with proposed state constitutional marriage amendments. These ballot measures, hyped by evangelicals and grassroots social conservative moments, may have tipped the balance. In Ohio, where a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage passed by a margin of 62-38 percent, over 900,000 more voters than 2000 went to the polls. Bush won by 136,000 votes.

Certain conservative elements, scared at the thought of the Republican Party tied too closely to Jerry Falwell, fundamentalism and his Moral Majority, have rejected this “moral values” phenomenon, claiming the exit polls to be broad and skewed. While their criticisms may hold some weight, it is indisputable that Republicans won the ground game thanks to the passion, manpower and moral appeals of conservative Christians. Now, Falwell and his fellow fundamentalist-televangelist gurus are launching organizations, such as the Faith and Values Coalition, to ensure that Bush and the Republican Party deliver on their demands. It appears that Bush will not disappoint.

Building on the opposition to same-sex marriage that galvanized voters on Nov. 2, Karl Rove announced Sunday on the reputable Fox News that Bush will continue his push to ban gay marriage with a constitutional amendment. So much for healing a divided nation. The American political narrative has been scorched with legislation that institutionalizes discrimination, and of course, Bush needs to leave his mark. This mark will only further divide a nation, while alienating and dehumanizing a large group of Americans.

I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a gay American in these times. One gay Christian single mother, interviewed by The Washington Post, said, “It’s a sinking feeling to think that you live in a place where some people have just voted to say that you are not a real person.” The recent electoral results have exposed biases and prejudices that many felt were beginning to fade away. America continues to be a place where discrimination abounds. Bush has brought that discrimination into the political sphere, guaranteeing himself a second term at the expense of the gay and lesbian community. When evangelist Jimmy Swaggert recently remarked that gays who want to marry should be killed for God, he concluded, “Thank God that President Bush supports the Federal Marriage Amendment.”

During the course of American history, each generation has been asked to fight a struggle that America might live out its creed to give life, liberty and pursuit of happiness to all its citizens. The struggle for gay rights is the avant-garde civil rights issue of our times. Will we be a generation to fight for equal rights for all peoples under the law or will we use the law to institutionalize our own bigotry? Will we assent to a politics of hope that calls us to certain ideals or will we succumb to our fears? Will we work for equality for the marginalized of our society or will we simply preach tolerance while remaining complicit in existing structures of injustice? This electoral cycle has highlighted the urgency and relevance of these questions.

Here on our own campus, where the administration refuses to recognize AllianceND, the unofficial gay-straight alliance, we see a microcosm of this larger civil rights struggle. Princeton Review has placed Notre Dame on the top of the “Alternative Lifestyles Not An Alternative” category for two consecutive years. Polls conducted by NDToday and others show a Notre Dame student body that is divided on the very issue of accepting homosexual individuals.

It is in this climate that hundreds of students and faculty will don orange shirts today, bearing the words “Gay? Fine by Me” in an act of solidarity among heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer students on campus. The T-shirt campaign, coupled with other events, seek to spark a dialogue that has been avoided far too long at Notre Dame, and in America. It is time that we, as a university and a nation, come out of the closet of silence and prejudice.

Peter Quaranto is a junior political science and international peace studies major. Contact Peter at pquarant@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.