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Sermonizing on the Sex Lives of Animals
I had a moment of confusion recently as I packed for a trip to New Orleans to debate the issue of same-sex marriage. I would be taking the side in favor of same-sex marriage even though I had a great deal of criticism about how it has become the only item on the new “gay agenda.” My opponent would be a right-wing evangelical Prot- estant. The debate would be held at Loyola University, a liberal Jesuit school in the most conservative diocese in one of the U.S.’s most famous sex-and-party cities. I wasn’t sure if I should pack Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica , my Bible, my leather chaps, or all of the above.
Actually, my confusion was due to the fact that a few months earlier I had written an essay (available on the web) that voiced reservations about the GLBT movement’s singular focus on the issue of marriage. Was I expected to take the pro-gay marriage side or the anti? This perplexity was cleared up a few days later when I received a follow-up email letting me know that my opponent would be Judge Darrell White, co-director of the Louisiana Family Forum, the local chapter of Focus on the Family and a major force in conservative religious politics in Louisiana. If it hadn’t been clear before, it was now: I had signed on to the “same-sex mar- riage now” bandwagon.
Despite these initial reservations, I was determined to do my best not only in arguing the pro-gay side, but also in keeping my undoubtedly prejudicial views of Southern Pro- testant conservatism at bay. I had a chance to practice being polite when I met Judge White at the pre-debate dinner. He struck me as a pleasant, alert, intelligent-sounding man with classic Southern gentility and charm. I considered our introduction a success. Not only did I not call him a homophobe, I didn’t even want to. Little did I know that, despite the judge’s Louisiana bonhomie, he had no intention of being polite or putting aside preconceived notions on stage.
The format for our discussion was classic high-school debating team. We would be discussing the question, “Should Same-Sex Marriage Be Made Legal in the United States?” Since I was taking the affirmative position, I would go first with 15 minutes to make my case; White would follow with 15 minutes to argue why same-sex marriage should not be made legal. We would each be given five minutes to respond. Then there would be two sets of student responses—pro and con—followed by questions from the audience. After years of gay political meetings where everyone yelled at one another, of political rallies where opposing sides chanted ugly sentiments in unison, this format seemed very adult.
I delivered my speech. It was sturdy, but lithe, a point-by-point argument (replete with humorous asides, of course). I contended that while people may disagree over the religious status of same-sex marriage, civil marriage was simply a legal contract issued by the government that, under constitutional law, had to be available to same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples. Most important, it would not destroy heterosexual marriage and family, but grant financial and legal benefits to a whole new set of family units that could only work to the general good of society. Rather than arguing as a “gay activist,” I made my case as an advocate for social and economic justice. “Gay marriage would not just help gay men and lesbians,” I argued, “but would benefit all society by bringing stability and health to more families.” (Later, in my response to the judge, I said that familial stability and health would be advanced more effectively with universal health care, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, federal funding for parents who stay home to care for children, comprehensive sexual and health education, free contraception on demand, and daycare for all who want and need it.)
After the audience of 200 students and others tied to the Loyola community gave me enthused and mildly sustained applause, White began his talk. I’m not sure what I was expecting. After all, he was a Southern evangelical with strong ties to the viciously homophobic Focus on the Family. Still, I had visited the Louisiana Family Forum website and was charmed by an elegantly posed portrait of the judge with his family—he has 7 children ranging in age from 6 to 31. Given also that Judge White was just that —a judge, albeit a retired one from the municipal court of Baton Rouge—I assumed he would do what I had done: shape his argument around legal and constitu- tional issues.
Imagine my surprise when Judge White kicked off his portion of the debate by implying that all gay people were mentally ill. The 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to take homosexuality off its list of disorders, he argued, was a gay liberationist plot. He then went on at length about people having sex with animals, which, according to the judge, would logically follow from the legalization of same-sex marriage. He also implied that gay activists were lobbying the APA to change its diagnostic profile for pedophilia. Then he talked more about sex with animals. Was there something about Louisiana I had missed in the travel brochures? Was no dog on the street safe from random gay men with marriage licenses looking for a mate? I had an image of Judge White on a broomstick—a la the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz —flying over the French quarter cackling, “We’ll get you...and your little dog too.”
The judge then read a long, very lame humor piece (now circulating on right-wing websites) in which a San Francisco city clerk quits her job when faced with having to marry a series of increasingly deranged people—zoophiles, male siblings, and a schizophrenic with two personalities who wants to marry himself. He followed that with a piece from a Bangor, Maine, newspaper in which a man, who was obviously mentally ill, announced that he had married his pet dog. White proceeded to paint a world run amok with political correctness, where grade-school students are forced to undergo sexuality “retraining” and queer activists topple the Catholic Church with anti-discrimination laws. Finally, he declared that same-sex marriage was “insulting” to heterosexuals because it insinuated that two parents of the opposite sex just weren’t necessary.
But even more surprising than the judge’s “case”—made haphazardly, since he obviously hadn’t prepared a debate speech—was my reaction to it. Sure, I was angered by the judge’s blatant, ugly, and often juvenile homophobia, but I was also indignant. I had been stood up at the altar of civic engagement. I had taken the time to write a speech with logical, judicial arguments. My opponent, on the other hand, spewed rote insults adorned in rhetorical rags, which had only the vaguest connection to the matter at hand. For a moment during the judge’s weird presentation, I felt like someone invited to a costume party who shows up in an Anna May Wong costume, only to discover that it’s a formal affair.
To be fair, some members of the audience snickered at parts of White’s speech (I confess to privately taking great delight in this). But in my response, I carefully avoided ridiculing his silly non-arguments and attempted to show that his desire to sustain families and children would be helped by same-sex marriage. White’s response? All culture wars, he declared, come down to, “Who sez?” Then, waving his Bible at the audience, he announced: “I say that, ‘He sez’.” There was only minor stirring. I think the audience was a little stunned by such nonverbal theatrics. The student responses, however, broke through the mood. The two men for the pro-gay marriage side were succinct and pungent; their opponents, a woman and man—both members of Compass, the school’s conservative Catholic group—argued theologically and legally against same-sex marriage, and while I disagreed with them, they were intelligent and respectful to the topic, to the forum, and to gay people.
In retrospect, of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised by Judge White’s antics. The bottom line is that there are no good legal reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. (Although I believe that there are some pretty basic common sense reasons to question its usefulness in people’s lives.) That’s why he had to resort to innuendo, lies, and insults. It didn’t even matter that this wasn’t the venue or the crowd for it, the judge was a man on a mission ill-prepared for argument or common sense.
These days I never really encounter—at close range, anyway—people who vehemently disagree with me or condemn who I am. I had looked forward to spirited debate with the enemy and all I came away with was—apart from disrespect—a deep sadness. Perhaps more than anything, my sadness was rooted in the judge’s constant invocation of bestiality to attack same-sex relationships. How sad that a man who professes Christianity—or any religion, really—would feel compelled to stoop so low to score points. But it also reminded me of an observation made by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a major 20th-century Jewish thinker: we lose the right to worship God when we deny the humanity in others. Which is, of course, another way of saying that if this is what our enemy has to fight with, we have already won.
Michael Bronski writes regularly on culture and gay and lesbian issues. His most recent book is Pulp Friction .
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.