What’s driving the new twin offensives against gay marriage announced by George Bush and the Pope? A reactionary wedding of morality and politics, naturally.
Bush cloaked his decision to jump on the antigay marriage bandwagon in “we’re all sinners” biblical rhetoric, a ploy that even seduced the New York Times, which obtusely praised the President for a “careful attempt to brush back…bigotry.” In fact, Bush’s choice to exploit gay marriage was motivated by crass electoral calculations. First, distract voters from more pressing issues that have eroded his support in the polls. Second, throw red meat to energize his Christian-right base–Karl Rove has complained publicly that 4 million of the 19 million evangelical Christians didn’t vote in the last national election. Third, surf on the antigay backlash against the Supreme Court’s sodomy decision: A Gallup poll two days before Bush unexpectedly pounced on gays showed that support for same-sex civil unions dropped to just 40 percent, the lowest level in three years–and support for making gay sex legal plummeted from 60 to 48 percent.
America perceives itself through television’s eye, and the new gay media visibility has fed the backlash. On TV gays are still, with a few exceptions, subjected to a “gauntlet of humiliation,” as a San Francisco Chronicle analysis recently put it. The one-dimensional, fashion-and-sex-enthralled, stereotypical inhabitants of Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Boy Meets Boy and other much-hyped niche programming raise hackles in the heartland. So does all-news TV’s obsessive coverage of gay US couples flocking to Canada or Vermont to marry or unite civilly and the crisis in the Anglican church over the ordination of gay bishops. Even the use of same-sex couples in advertising by mainstream companies like Volvo has contributed to the media’s much-touted “gaying” of America.
The United States is the most religious of any industrialized democracy, and at a time of economic uncertainty and security hysteria, the railings of the Christian right against the cultural “chaos” of gay marriage offer up gays to the frustrated and fearful as a convenient target, especially to the undereducated and underemployed, who see upwardly mobile consumerist gays on TV enjoying advantages beyond their reach. Resentment combined with religiosity is why 54 percent of Hispanics oppose gay marriage while only 40 percent support it, and among African-Americans there is a whopping 65-28 percent split, according to a July Pew poll.