Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gay identity

"NOW THEREFORE, I, BARAK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists."

Now, there is a thing! - "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month"! I have to say, as a South African, I find the idea rather strange. I mean, what would one compare it to? Could we have a "Black Pride Month"? Or, if one is talking minorities, a "White Pride Month"? It all starts to look and sound rather absurd.

Now, it is true that most of the time, other than the fact that we do not share commonality with the rest of society, being Gay or Lesbian, (or whatever) is frequently the ONLY thing which binds us together. And in the end, one needs to ask, does it even do that? Is it not really a figment?

And when I start to compare lifestyles, and political persuasion, and ethics and things like that - I find , often, I really don't want to be in that group at all! Yes, we may be Gay, or otherwise engaged sexually, but that is hardly a reason for being together - unless there is some other unifying factor.

Like, for instance, oppression of one kind or another, or persecution, or unequal opportunities, or hatred. But then it is - or at least it should be - a joint effort. Being Gay, or Lesbian, or Bisexual or Transgendered, or Intersexed (or even heterosexual!) is just what we are, as human beings. It is not worth forming a sub-culture over, any more than red-hairdness might be.

To my mind, it plays into the prevailing prejudices of society to want to, or need to, separate off in this way. I think it has a place - for the purposes of lobbying, cajoling, pressuring. But the problem is, that it frequently then becomes an end in itself, not a means to an end.

Obama has been criticised fairly strongly because he has not done away with the ability of individual states to take their own decision restricting same-sex marriage. In his campaign for the White House, Obama had pleged to repeal the Defence of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages and enabling individual states to refuse to recognise such marriages performed in other states.. The Justice Department has filed a brief, in opposition to a federal lawsuit, which argues that the law is unconstitutional, saying that the Act "reflects a cautiously limited response to society's still evolving understanding of the institution of marriage".

Now, at first glance, this looks pretty cut and dried. How is it that there is not simply one position, for everyone? Surely that is what one would expect in a liberated, free society? But there is, of course, another argument - one which is being played out at the moment - in a much smaller arena, in the Anglican Church.

Here it is argued, that we need to " take our people with us". I would think, from the brief of the Justice Department, that much the same perspective (and caution) is being applied. What is meant, is that one has to keep the bigger prize in focus and take small steps to get there.

On the one hand, one cannot but agree. Of course, the best scenario is that there should be consensus on the matter. But on the other (and I am afraid this is the trump card in the debate), it is not as though one is arguing about what colour to paint a room, or when to serve tea. Human lives and human dignity is the issue here. And if it is wrong that state is unfairly discriminating against some people - prolonging the discrimination is not a satisfactory solution.

I think the church is a slightly - but only slightly - different matter. Because there, unfortunately, one has to deal not only with the soft bedding of hypocrisy, which the church has made for itself, as well as the difficulty of years of really questionable theology. Neither of these is insurmountable. At least in South Africa, we have our Constitution as one of the sweet fruits of our struggle. It is a sad truth that many in our churches continue to struggle with some of its contents, such as the issue of sexual orientation. I have no doubt that we will eventually get there. It may take a long time. And the probability is that a lot of people will be alienated from the church because of the time it is taking. But, like divorce, and women priests - we will get to the obvious place eventually.

And hopefully, we will all eventually, as humankind, reach a point when being gay or straight is as irrelevant and unremarkable as the colour of one's eyes.

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