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He dares not speak its name

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DAVID LINK is a writer in Sacramento and a member of the Independent Gay Forum, where some of his articles can be found online.

LISTENING TO President Bush, you’d never know that the nation is having a debate over gay marriage. His Saturday radio address to the nation had no mention of gay couples -- or even homosexual individuals. Instead, we hear such things as “Marriage is the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith ... the commitment of a husband and a wife.”

Apparently, for the president, this is an argument of heterosexuals, by heterosexuals and for heterosexuals.

But heterosexuals already have marriage. The reason this debate is going on is because homosexuals do not -- and, for the first time, have made the argument that they should.

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There is certainly room for disagreement on that point. But to carry on the discussion without even mentioning one entire side is to conduct half an argument.

In this, at least, the president’s Christianist supporters -- those who use their religion as a political tool -- are honest. They do not like homosexuals. Or, when they are being charitable, do not like homosexual “activity.”

Their attitude toward lesbians and gay men ranges from hostility to mere condescension. But at least they acknowledge the debate is about homosexuality.

Compare them to the president. He has now addressed this issue publicly in a State of the Union address, in his reelection campaign and in the context of congressional debates over two proposed constitutional amendments that would bar same-sex marriage. But he has yet to address any comments directly to same-sex couples.

The closest he comes to it is to invoke “activist” courts and judges. In a speech Monday, he said that “an amendment to the Constitution is necessary because activist courts have left our nation with no other choice.”

But they are “activist” precisely and only to the extent that they have ruled in favor of same-sex couples. In the contorted politics of this issue, courts are subjected to attacks on their good faith and credibility because politicians are not willing to say they do not believe that lesbians and gay men are entitled to equality.

But the irony gets thick when the president purports to be evenhanded in conducting this half-debate. Bush said this in his most recent address on the issue: “As this debate goes forward, we must remember that every American deserves to be treated with tolerance, respect and dignity. All of us have a duty to conduct this discussion with civility and decency toward one another, and all people deserve to have their voices heard.”

What Americans is he talking about? The ones he consciously never named in his speech? Does he seriously think lesbians and gay men are being treated with “civility and decency” -- much less “tolerance” or “respect” -- when he will not meet publicly with a gay or lesbian group on this issue and will not even mention that the debate over same-sex marriage is about them?

It is beyond laughable at this point for the president to say that “all people deserve to have their voices heard” when he is the chief person who will not hear those voices.

If homosexual Americans are not entitled to equal protection, then an honest president would say so and explain why.

We are, perhaps, beyond believing this president to be honest. But if he is to be congratulated by the Christianists for bowing to their wishes, shouldn’t they, at least, require him to say what he means?

The answer, apparently, is no. They know exactly what he means and exactly who he is talking about. And if he is less manifest in his dismissal of gays and lesbians than they, his may be the greater insult for being so much more indifferent.

For decades now, lesbians and gay men have been open about our sexual orientation. But the president’s message to his supporters is that we should just stick with what worked for so long -- at least for heterosexuals. If lesbians and gay men won’t go back in the closet, he will do what he can to impose one.


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