Thursday, November 18, 2004

Picking the Past

Marriage/equal rights for gay people has presented an interesting question to those on both sides of the issue: how is the gay rights struggle similar to/different from other civil rights struggles?

Some people believe the struggle for equal marriage rights is (or isn't--depending on who you are) similar to the struggle for racial equality. A short and sweet blurb on that from a Newshouse article:

(Begin quote) Arbogast and his longtime partner, Steve Forssell, both 42, were deeply disappointed by the election. The two, born and still living in Washington, D.C., contacted a Canadian attorney and started the application process for permanent residency there.

"We don't want to get married, that's not it," Arbogast said. "But when 11 states have the opportunity to do the right thing, and all 11 in landslide fashion go against a civil rights measure, it calls into question, do we want to be here? And the answer is no."

That doesn't mean, he added, "that we hate the U.S. or are rescinding our citizenship or hate the president. What it means is, we feel like `coloreds' in the '60s: good for TV, fun at a party, but certainly not equal." (End quote)

While I identify with that last sentence with uncomfortable ease, I am now thinking that the glbt (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) struggle may have more in common with the women's suffrage movement. The issue for women (at least white women) back in the early 20th century, wasn't whether or not they were free to go in and out of public places at will (well, there were those clubs). It was more about restricting the rights of women under the patronizing guise of "doing what is best" for them.

I've linked before to this Lasley essay which examines the Southern Baptist's 1998(!) vote to write "wife submission" into their faith and message statement. It is a striking and frightening exploration of how the logic of slave ownership in the South was used to create a 20th century velvet collar for Baptist wives. Before you dismiss the idea as as Southern Baptist problem, you should take a look at it. It is pretty revelatory in its explanation of how seemingly "normal people" get from love to oppression without ever leaving the comfort of their own church pews.

I'm going to challenge myself to get to know the women's suffrage movement in the coming days. If anyone knows of good resources for this, please share!


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