Vice President Joe Biden has never lacked for passion. And his occasional failure to restrain his enthusiasm has sometimes gotten him in trouble. But his over-the-top rhetoric was right on point when he gave the keynote address Saturday evening at the Human Rights Campaign's gala in downtown Los Angeles.
Biden told a story I had never heard, about the first time he saw two men kissing (at minute 14 of the video above). He was in junior high, and his father was driving him to apply for a lifeguard job.
"We stopped at a red light and I looked over to my left and there were two men kissing goodby. And it was the first time I'd seen that. And my father looked at me and said, 'They love each other.' That's the end. That's the end."
Pretty progressive for the mid-1950s.
Two topics dear to his crowd's heart really got Biden revved up: Congress's failure to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the brutal treatment of gay people overseas, in places like Uganda, Nigeria and even Russia.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has been introduced in Congress repeatedly since the 1990s, would prohibit employers with more than 15 workers from hiring and firing based on sexual orientation. In November, the Senate passed it 64-32, but it naturally is languishing in the Republican-dominated House.
Last week, 220 Democratic members of the Senate and House sent a letter calling on President Obama to issue an executive order expanding workplace protections to gay workers employed by federal contractors. But only Congress has the power to apply the law to private employers.
Here's what Biden had to say about Employment Non-Discrimination Act, starting at minute 12 of the video at the top of this post:
"My grandkids, my children, and their kids are going to be shocked, it shocks the conscience that this very moment in American history, in some states, an employer can fire you just because of who you are, or who you love. It's close to barbaric. I mean think about this, a man, no I really mean this. Imagine, imagine, 20 years from now, as America look back and say how in the hell could that have ever been allowed? The country's moved on. The American people have moved on, it's time for the Congress to move on, and pass ENDA. Pass ENDA now. Not tomorrow, now!"
As for the treatment of gays in other countries, Biden was equally passionate, and angry, dismissing the idea that "cultural norms" are what has led to persecution of gays in countries like Nigeria, Uganda and even Russiam, starting at minute 16:58:
"In Nigeria, even supporting LGBT organizations can land you in prison for a decade. Closer to home, in Jamaica, we hear about corrective rape for lesbian women. The world was outraged when we found out about genital mutiliation that takes place in some African countries. Corrective rape? What in God's name are we talking about? How can a country that speaks in those terms be remotely considered to be a civil society?"
He said he had met a Ugandan woman at a White House event who told him that "aggravated homosexuality" is a crime punishable by life in prison in her country, starting at minute 18:45:
"Aggravated homosexuality? Whoa. There's some sick people in the world….Hate can never be defended because it's a so-called cultural norm. I've had it up to here with cultural norms. I really mean it. A cultural norm that is sick, is sick. It's simple. There's never a justification for a government or individual politician to play off the bigotry and hatred."
We hear so much from the right-wing about political correctness run amok, about moral and cultural relativism being the downfall of American society. How about handing it to an old liberal who sees bigotry for what it is, and doesn't hestitate to call it out?